Museum’s autism program wins national award

Like many children with autism spectrum disorder, Susana Montes’ 9-year-old son, Ian, has an interest in trains.

The Harlem residents often take the hourlong train ride to the New York Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn so Ian could explore its collection of vintage trains. And when Montes heard about the museum’s after-school program specifically tailored to children on the autism spectrum, she knew she had to apply.

“I saw a child I never really knew until this program came about,” said Montes, whose son participated in Subway Sleuths when he was 7. “As soon as we step in the Transit Museum, he’s a different child — he’s happy, he’s motivated, he’s confident, he’s ready to do whatever he wants to do.”

The museum launched the program about five years ago after noticing that families with children on the autism spectrum were frequent visitors.

“We realized we should do something special for them,” said Regina Asborno, deputy director of the New York Transit Museum.

Parents like Montes aren’t the only fans of Subway Sleuths. The program is one of 12 winners nationwide in the annual National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, which recognizes out-of-school arts and humanities programs for young people. The winners, selected from 50 finalists, will be feted at the White House on Nov. 12 and receive a $10,000 grant.

Subway Sleuths serves children from second to fifth grade and encourages social skills development through their shared interest in trains. The after-school program is offered twice a year, with three classes of six students a semester, and costs $350 for 10 weeks and $450 for 12, though scholarships are available to defray some of the cost. Participants can explore the museum, solve transit mysteries and learn about the city’s transit system, and each class is led by a special education teacher, speech-language pathologist and Transit Museum educator.

“This is one of the few after-school programs that’s been around for this time [five years] that deals specifically with kids on the autism spectrum disorder,” Asborno said. “Using that passion and love of trains to help with these social skills is an innovative way to use this museum space.”


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