Fernbank Museum in Atlanta, which includes an IMAX® Theatre, models of the world's largest dinosaurs and interactive science and nature exhibits, provides a wonderful hands-on sensory experience for all children.
The 160,000-square-foot museum took nearly three years to build and opened in October 1992 as the "first museum to display the world's largest dinosaur," the Argentinosaurus, which is a permanent feature in the 86-foot tall atrium along with a Giganotosaurus, pterosaurs and a variety of other prehistoric species.
Fernbank also offers a signature exhibit titled "A Walk Through Time in Georgia," which traces Georgia's natural history from the beginning of Planet Earth through the present day. Parents and children can walk through a cave, view life-size models of dinosaurs and other extinct animals and view life under the sea.
Elementary school-aged children will particularly enjoy the Sensing Nature exhibit, which features a hands-on giant-bubble-making table, a working tornado machine and a variety of optical and light effects.
On the third level, the Children's Discovery rooms provide a great place for playful exploration. The first room is geared toward toddlers and pre-school-aged children and the second, The Georgia Adventure room, encourages children ages 6-9 to play in the city, on the shore and in the Georgia mountains.
And last, but not least, Fernbank boasts a wonderful and reasonably-priced gift shop. The Museum Store is open during all museum hours and accepts most forms of payment.
For autistic children and others with sensory issues, parents should remember to:
Plan Ahead: Talk to your child about the museum and show him/her the Fernbank website so they can decide in advance what they want to see.
Bring Snacks for Kids on Special Diets: The Fernbank Cafe offers a variety of sandwiches, snacks and beverages at reasonable prices, but may not be able to accommodate special diets, such as the GFCF diet for autistic children.
Time your visit: Parking is limited and the museum draws a large crowd on the weekends. Come early, right after lunch, a couple of hours before closing or on a week day, but call ahead to ask if school groups are booked that day.
Divide and conquer: If you have multiple children, designate an adult to accompany your special needs child, because he/she may breeze through some exhibits, refuse to walk through others or become absolutely fascinated with one particular attraction. If possible, take your special needs child on his/her own special visit without their siblings.
Buy an annual museum pass: If you live in or around Atlanta, an annual pass will pay for itself. It is impossible to see all of the museum in one visit and an impromptu return trip is a great option for a rainy day.