Sometimes news can be found in the oddest of locations. While walking out of a restaurant I saw a copy of the New York Times with a front page story about railroads and autistic children.
As reported in the August 13th edition of the New York Times, The New York Transit Museum has been sponsoring a program called Subway Sleuths. The program helps children with autism in the New York City area to use railroads to improve their social skills. The program makes use of the history of the NYC area transit systems to allow children to interact and produce digital media presentations to share with friends and family.
Marcia Ely began the pilot program in Spring 2011 after perceiving a serious demand for the program from schools wishing to sponsor field trips to parents stopping her seeing her museum identification. Scientific research has demonstrated that children with autism have a tendency to like trains. It is often attributed to the train’s predictability and operational patterns.
The program plans to expand this fall. The official MTA information on the program can be found here.
This program is an exceptional use of the cities resources. Children with autism really do have significant trouble socializing and making friends. Providing them a way to learn skills to do that in an environment they feel safe in and using a topic they are passionate about is exactly what is needed to help them. Imagine being placed in a room with a total stranger and having no idea what to talk about, and feeling nervous, now that is how a neurotypical person would feel. A person with autism in that situation might panic, or completely shut down with fear, but in this situation, they now have a common topic talk about, and as they begin talking about the trains, or the station or the history, the fear can melt away. It can only be hoped this program continues to receive funding to grow.