An Autism Guide to the Indianapolis Children's Museum

An Autism Guide to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum

See a mama dinosaur and her baby trying to get into the Indianapolis Children's Museum!

Your Autism Guide to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum

If you have ever wanted to visit the Indianapolis Children’s Museum but were afraid of an intense sensory environment, then allow me to guide you as you navigate your visit with an autism.


The “Awesome-est” Museum on the Planet!

What do dinosaurs, a space station, a giant “chocolate” slide, an archeological dig in China, an old-fashioned carousel, and Super Mario Brothers have in common?

Why, they are all located at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum!

There is no other museum that my family and I have visited that is quite like the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.  You can spend several hours, even days, exploring its 5 floors of highly interactive, sensory and educational exhibits.

While most exhibits are permanent, some are temporary for a few months (such as Paw Patrol) or a few years (Take Me There Greece). With actual science experts and interpreters available to answer questions, this is truly a working and ever-evolving museum.


Obsessions Fulfilled!

Trains, trains...who loves trains? Find them here at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.Is anyone in your family really into model trains? They have several displays and places to play with toy trains…and an actual steam locomotive used in the late 1800s!


Is anyone into dinosaurs? They have real, life-size dinosaur bones on display, a “dig for bones” site, and play areas with giant eggs and dinosaur figures.


Is anyone into learning about archeological finds from Egypt, China and the Caribbean? Try on scuba gear, put together pieces of a sarcophagus, or use tools to discover relics from China’s past.


Visit a replica of the Space Station at the Indianapolis Children's Museum. Is anyone into space exploration? Discover what it’s like to live on a space station and watch the frequently-run planetarium films on different space-related topics.


And much, much MORE! (I’m just scratching the surface of what is there.)

Not Just for Kids!

While its name implies that it’s only for children, I highly beg to differ.  Just recently they had an enormous exhibit of Star Trek paraphernalia, including models of the Enterprise and the costumes worn by the original cast of the TV show and most recent movies.


My old Star Wars lunch box is here! I was as giddy as a small child upon discovering that they had my very first lunchbox—a red Empire Strikes Back—encased in a display.


The Indianapolis Children’s Museum is truly a place for ALL ages. Each exhibit caters to the different developmental stages and sensory experiences—audio, visual, tactile, smell, kinesthetic—making the museum a complete and playful learning environment.


Warning…Potential Overload!

Because it is so sensory rich, this can pose problems for some children and adults on the spectrum.  For one, it can be incredibly LOUD.  It can also be very CROWDED (like, theme park crowded) on certain holidays and weekends.

Some displays are very visually stimulating.  The planetarium can be overwhelming for those afraid of darker spaces.  My own autistic children experienced sensory overload within about 4 hours, needing to get away for a short break.

With this in mind, I want to provide you with some important tips for making your trip to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum a fun and memorable experience for everyone involved.

Come explore with me as I provide you with an autism guide to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum!



1. Plan out when and how long you can visit.

Can you visit during the weekday when it’s not so crowded?

Sometimes the museum has certain “free days” over holidays…DON’T GO THEN!

It is also very crowded over spring break weekend.  Can you visit one day or two?  Can your family handle only a couple hours at a time or all day with a break?

If you live far away and are spending some time in the area, then consider a two-day experience to spread it out, especially if it becomes too overwhelming after a few hours.


2. Explore the website of the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

You’ll be able to see pictures and a few videos of the different attractions in each exhibit.

Also, watch YouTube videos of the attractions with your autistic loved one to get a better sense of what to expect in terms of behavior or anticipated excitement.

Have fun getting to the know the museum with your child!


3. Download the Sensory Guide while you plan your trip.

This very thorough resource is designed to help families with autism have the best possible experience. You can print this out at home or ask for one from a ticket-taker.  You will need to have it with you as you go through the museum as there are no sensory designation signs at the exhibit entrances.

They also provide a Social Narrative that you can read with your autistic loved one at home to prepare for this experience. A very helpful Visual Checklist has social story cue cards—both pre-verbal requests as well as pictures of the exhibits—that you can print off and laminate to use while you are at the museum. You can make a pre-determined schedule based on your child’s interests as well as sensory needs.

You can learn about their full range of their accessibility program here.


For better prices, buy your tickets to the Indianapolis Children's Museum online.

4. Find out if you qualify for any discounts.

You can get a 25% discount by buying tickets 2-weeks in advance through the website. If your autistic loved one can’t wait in a long ticket line, this is especially helpful.

They do NOT offer AAA discounts at the museum, but you may ask your local AAA office (as well as employee-based programs) if they can sell discounted tickets.

Consider buying a family membership if you plan spend more than one day there within the year and have more than a couple of children within the family.

Another idea: suggest getting tickets or membership as holiday or birthday gifts.

If you are a resident of Indiana and have Medicaid or your autistic kids have a Medicaid-based family supports waiver, your family qualifies for the Access Pass. It will allow you to get in at $2/person.

The Glass Tower by Dale Chiluly...right through the center of the museum



5. Come earlier in the day.

Be there at the hour they open if possible. Usually there are less people in the first couple of hours.

If your child has a hard time waiting in line, have a helper wait with him or her while you go get tickets.

6. Visit the concierge for assistance, including sensory tools.

If you didn’t bring your own noise-cancelling headphones, ask for a pair from the level 1 concierge desk.  (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THESE AS THIS PLACE CAN BE LOUD.) You can find it past the giant water clock near the elevators.

7. Consider starting at the top floor first, then work your way down.

Most people want to explore the lower levels first. But for a shorter line at the carousel (only $1 to ride/person) visit level 4 first thing in the morning.  The exhibits here—Carousel Wishes & Dreams and Science Works—are also the most sensory-stimulating in terms of noise, tactile- movement, visual-spatial, and lighting. You child may be able to handle this area earlier in the day when he or she is less tired and not ripe for a meltdown.

8. Playscape is open to special needs kids. Normally, this very hands-on, movement-based area (level 3) is only for children 5 and under.  But if your older, autistic child would like to explore water, sand, colors, and a climbing structure, feel free to play here.

Read about amazing kids who made a difference in our world! (Also a good quiet spot)9. For some quiet, down-time, visit The Power of Children.

It is a reflective, educational exhibit (level 3) of the lives of three important children who made a difference in the world.  There may be some spaces that induce a calming effect.

Other quiet areas are found on Level 2:  around the ramp (Mini-Masterpieces and Stories from Our Community) and Big Bad and Bizarre where you can find a dark, quiet overlook of the Dinosphere® exhibit.

 10. When you get hungry…

The Food Court can be very chaotic and loud around lunchtime. There is plenty of space to eat so consider the tables further from the cashiers.

But if you would rather bring your own lunch (especially with a special diet), there is a quiet place outside the food court just inside the Dinosphere®.

Ask the concierge if there are other places you can eat that are quieter.

11. If your child is a runner…

Bring along a tracker device if necessary or something your child can wear with your identification and phone number.

Several exhibits have more than one entrance. Dinosphere® is dark, so it can be hard to constantly track your child.

Alert staff “interpreters” at exhibit entrances that your child has autism and is susceptible to take off without warning. They can alert other staff to locate your child.

Consider bringing along other helpers.  Call ahead to see if your certified respite care worker is entitled to a free ticket (317-334-4000).

 12. Potentially “scary places”…Dinosphere is a sensory-intense envrironment!

These include:

  • the Treasures of the Earth elevator (simulates riding down a semi-dark mine-shaft that rattles);
  • the Planetarium (can be disconcerting due to being very dark and playing shows on the rounded ceiling); and…
  • Dinosphere® (darker area with special effects sounds and sights, including dinosaur growling and stormy weather).

With good preparation, your child might be fine handling these.

Watch a video of the experience. Then create a social story with your child.



While it’s important to be prepared it’s also important to “go with the flow”.  That includes not pushing your child to keep going when they have had enough.

I recommend spending more than one day if you are not from Indiana. Make it a weekend getaway and visit the Indianapolis Zoo as well!

My autistic kids absolutely love this place, even as teenagers. Every visit has been a little different as they have grown up and the museum morphs with new exhibits. We had our challenges with sensory overload (including me!). But it’s one of the most enriching learning and playful places on the planet.

With an autism guide to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum to help you navigate the sensory experiences, you’ll a greater chance of having a lots of fun!

See Bumblebee and hear him talk at the Indianapolis Children's Museum lobby!



The Indianapolis Children’s Museum is definitely an experience your family will never forget!




I would love to help you plan a fun-filled getaway like this!  Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!



Trains Your Autism Family Will Love

Learn about Getaways with Trains Your Autism Family Will Love

In this article you will learn about the different events and trips with trains your autism family will love. If trains are big fascination in your household, discover how you can satisfy that passion with a trip to a railway!


The Magic of Trains

There is something magical about trains.  They represent history, grandeur, power and nostalgia.  They are an endless source of fascination for young and old alike.

Whenever a model-train set is present, complete with a beautifully built scenic backdrop, you’ll see crowds with their eyes fixated on every little detail.

Most children seem fascinated by Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.  Created as a book series but popularized by videos, Thomas is a worldwide recognizable character.

When I brought the videos home from the library, my son was absolutely in awe.  Slowly, through birthday and Christmas gifts, we built our Thomas the Tank Engine character collection—Gordon, Percy and Edmund were our favorites.

But soon it became a motivational reward for good work and good behavior.  After all, I simply couldn’t buy a train every time we walked into Barnes & Noble bookstores.

Waiting to acquire and welcome another friend of Thomas into our home was a good lesson in delayed gratification.


Trains & Autism

Many people speculate a correlation between a train fascination/obsession and autism. I don’t know of any conclusive studies on that. But both of my autistic kids loved the show and the toys.

  • Perhaps it the constancy and dependability of trains running on a track or lining them up in a straight line?
  • Was it was the feeling of control over motion or the spinning of the wheels?
  • Or maybe it was the simplistic emotions of the characters in the movies, or the fact that they express themselves without actually moving their mouths?
  • Was it teaching them to connect a character’s actions to consequences in a more understandable way?
  • Did playing with the trains provide a sense of stability and comfort in their lives?

I would say YES to all of these, at least for my kids.

To avoid over-analyzing the reasons, I would simply state that my kids made a strong connection to these characters.

Translating what they saw in the videos to actual play with the same characters as real toys made a big impact on their development.

While my son was very particular about me playing with Thomas, I was allowed to play with Percy. (He let me set up the tracks, which I was more than happy to do.) He was pretty adamant about playing with trains HIS particular way, preferring to reenact the movie scenes rather than interact with me.

But gradually it moved from a side-by-side model of play to more two-way cooperative play. Eventually being forced to share his trains with his sister, he learned how to share and negotiate.


From Toys to the “Real Thing”

Then, the movie The Polar Express came out in theaters. Boy, did my kids enjoy that film!

A year or two later did I find out that a railroad depot somewhere in my state offered a Polar Express train excursion, complete with hot cocoa and a visit by Santa and Mrs. Claus.

I drove two and a half hours with my son to ride this for his birthday.  He was pretty thrilled, to say the least.  Over the years we did other train excursions.

I think by the time the “Day Out with Thomas” event became pretty popular, my son had become a pre-teen and moved on to Legos and Disney. I do wish we could have experienced that when my kids were younger.


Riding Thomas the Tank Engine

OPTION 1: Day Out with Thomas

If you child loves the Thomas the Tank Engine series, then actually getting to ride him would be a dream come true!

The event is promoted as “Day Out with Thomas” and requires advanced ticket purchases.  They are held from Spring to Fall and in only one or two locations across several states.

If you have to travel far, consider making it a short vacation. Check out the “Event Information” page to see what fun activities they offer besides the train-ride.

Bring your camera! (This is generally a short train ride—around 30 min.)

OPTION 2: Thomas-Land at Edaville Family Theme Park.

If riding Thomas at your local railway station is not enough, consider planning a trip to the Edaville Family Theme Park in South Carver, Massachusetts.

They have an entire land devoted to Thomas & Friends, filled with fun rides and attractions!

They even host sensory friendly awareness weekends to promote education and safety for families with autism.

OPTION 3: Visit the Thomas & Friends website

You can keep the fun alive at home when you visit the website!

The Thomas & Friends website has an incredibly array of information, including fun activities for kids, resources for parents (including using Thomas as a teaching tool), and the various Thomas-oriented events around the country.


Riding the Polar Express

If riding a Christmas train seems more enticing, then the Polar Express is what you’re looking for!

In my home state of Indiana, families like to travel to French Lick for this hugely popular seasonal event.  The local historic hotels offer vacation packages for young families who attend this event.

I remember seeing many children enter the West Baden Hotel wearing pajamas and carrying a stuffed toy because they just got off the Polar Express.

The train travels a certain distance, then stops to pick up Santa and Mrs. Claus who visit with each child.  Hot cocoa is passed out and each child is provided a small “gift”. (This ride generally runs 60-75 minutes long.)



Even though over the years more excursions are made available at each railway site, these tickets are often snatched up quick!

Don’t rely on getting tickets a day or two before you plan to go.


Other Railway Events

There are many other seasonal events that will bring delight for train enthusiasts!

The men and boys in my family took part in a Wild West Hold-Up sponsored by the French Lick Scenic Railway, brought to life by reenactors in cowboy attire on horseback and others in period clothes. Even my teen son really enjoyed the experience.

(*NOTE: the “robbers” do not actually take your wallets, personal items, or hostages!)

They also host the Easter Bunny Express and the Dinosaur Adventure Train.

To find out more about other events like these, contact the railways in your state.

In Indiana:

French Lick Scenic Railway:

Whitewater Valley Railroad:


Final Tips When Visiting a Railway

Even though your child may like trains, behavior may still be unpredictable in a new environment.  It would be wise to prepare your child.

Create a social story about the journey. Watch videos of kids riding the Thomas train to generate excitement.  Bring along snacks and comforting sensory items.  Alert railway attendees and the conductor if necessary that you child has autism and may need extra accommodations.

It would also be a good idea to know how long the time ride will be in advance. If your child can only handle short rides, then Thomas would be a better fit than the Polar Express.

Plan to do decompressing activities after the ride (swim at a hotel, play at a playground, etc.) if the amount of people at the event seems overwhelming.


Rail Journeys to Explore the World

I miss those days of watching my kids play with trains.  But train excursions don’t have to end when childhood is over.

When you visit large cities, take the subway.  (Find out why many kids on the spectrum love this mode of transportation here!)

Or better yet, consider taking a train vacation across country.  You can travel by rail from the nearest major city to the western national parks. The Grand Canyon offers sightseeing excursions by rail.

There are even amazing rail vacations in Europe!

See the world traveling on trains!

If there certain types of train experiences your family will love, I’d love to help you plan a amazing vacation package!

Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!