Our goal is to make the Houston Museum of Natural Science accessible to all visitors. We are excited to offer resources for those with sensory sensitivities or those affected by autism spectrum disorders. Before coming to the museum, download and review our guides, planners, and other resources to make your visit to HMNS more enjoyable for you and the whole family!
Ask questions! If you have any questions about which exhibits are appropriate for you or your child during your visit, please ask a staff member. We’ll be happy to help you create the best museum experience for you or your family!
Use our Visual Vocabulary Cards to make visiting new spaces and transitioning between museum halls easier. You can also use these cards to create a visual schedule of your day at HMNS!
Our Sensory Guide provides you with information on which exhibits meet your or your child’s sensory needs, including noise levels, visual stimulation, and tactile components. Use this guide to plan your visit and decide which exhibit halls are appropriate for you and your family. You can also use this map to ensure your transitions and pathways between museum halls are appropriate for your or your child’s sensory needs.
HMNS Exploration Planner
Visit HMNS before you ever walk through the doors! Use our Exploration Planner to let your child know what to expect during your day at the museum, from waiting in line at the box office to exploring our many exhibit halls. Let Dipsy the Diplodocus give you helpful tips on what to expect and look for along the way!
Check out our Sensory Backpacks, created and given to HMNS by Boy Scout Alex Hightower, at Museum Services! Just show the Team Member at the Museum Services desk your ID in order to check out a backpack for your visit. Our Sensory Backpacks include fidgets, stuffed animals, ear defenders, and sunglasses, among other things, to ensure that you have a comfortable, sensory-friendly visit with us.
Sensory Friendly Event
Join us for a Sensory Friendly Event on Saturday, April 29! HMNS will open early at 8 a.m. with modified lighting and reduced sound until 10 a.m. to turn the museum into a more comfortable and welcoming environment for visitors with sensory sensitivities. The Cockrell Butterfly Center will also be open with adjusted lighting and sound for all visitors to enjoy. The Burke Baker Planetarium and Wortham Giant Screen Theatre will have special screenings from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. with the house lights on, volume lowered and in 2D (no 3D glass required). Be sure to check out our Accessibility resources from Museum Services, or print them out yourself and bring them with you!
Check back for more information about our Sensory Friendly Day in the fall when sensory friendly modifications are in place all day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets for Sensory Friendly Event are the same price as regular operating hours. As always, HMNS members will receive free admission to the permanent exhibit halls and discounted admission to all special venues. Visit our membership page for more information on joining the HMNS member family. We hope to see you there!
Families affected by autism are also invited to a special on-site registration and data collection event for the SPARK Autism Research Study (Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine). SPARK, the nation’s largest ever autism study, aims to uncover causes and treatments for autism by creating a community of over 50,000 individuals affected by autism, and their biological family members. Participating families will be asked to share basic medical and behavioral information, as well as provide a saliva DNA sample. The on-site registration event is a unique opportunity for families to receive personal assistance in completing the study forms as well as collecting the saliva DNA samples (space is limited). This event will also take place at the HMNS on Saturday, April 29th (8am – 12pm).
Anyone interested in participating in the SPARK on-site registration event is requested to RSVP with the SPARK team in advance by April 22nd: firstname.lastname@example.org | 832-824-3624. Those who RSVP will receive discounted tickets to the Houston Museum of Natural Science the day of the event.
For those who want to participate in the SPARK study, but can’t attend the on-site registration event, visit: www.SPARKforAutism.org/TexasChildrens.
Additional Tips and Information
- Visit HMNS at low volume times. Our museum halls can get crowded on the weekends, during our Free Days on Thursdays from 2:00pm until closing, during holidays (especially Spring Break), and during the summer. During weekdays in the spring, the halls may be crowded with school groups visiting on field trips. The best times to visit are right when the museum opens (9:00am) during the week, especially on Mondays. If you have any questions about how busy the museum is, you can call 713-639-4629 to speak with a representative from our Visitor Services Department.
- Review our Exploration Planner in advance! A good way to prepare you and your family for a visit to HMNS is to look over our Exploration Planner and decide which exhibits you’d like to see and in what order you’d like to visit them. It might also be helpful to bring a printed copy of the Exploration Planner, along with our Visual Vocabulary Cards, with you for your visit!
- Plan a little extra time for parking as the Museum District can get crowded. If the HMNS parking garage (Lot B) is full (Lot B), there are other 3-hour lots in the area (such as Lot C). Please reference this map for alternative parking areas.
- Be sure to plan ahead for lunch – we do not allow food or drink in our exhibit halls! You may either pack a lunch and keep it stored in a bag that you carry with you until lunchtime, keep a lunch stored in your car until lunchtime, or purchase lunch from the McDonald’s, located in the Grand Hall of the museum. Your Permanent Exhibit Hall ticket gives you access to exit and re-enter the Permanent Exhibits throughout the day, so feel free to eat lunch and return to the museum!
- If you and your child get separated, please report to Museum Services, located inside the main Exhibit Hall entrance off of the Grand Hall and report that you and your child were separated. Museum staff are trained to help find your child in this situation.
- Please note that events and facility rentals are a frequent occurrence at HMNS. If you are visiting towards the end of the day, catering may be setting up in certain areas in the museum. The Morian Overlook on the 2nd Floor of the museum is a popular rental space for luncheons and/or evening events. Please note that this area may be closed to the public depending on the day that you visit.
- There are no strollers allowed in our Planetarium, Giant Screen Theater, or Butterfly Center, but we will always provide a place for you to store them while you enjoy the shows or exhibit!
- Be sure to review our Sensory Guide before your visit. This map includes information on sensory components of each exhibition as well as quiet places to stop and take a break during your exploration, should you need them.
- These resources are also useful for families with young children, elderly patrons or anyone visiting the museum! Find laminated versions of these resources to check out at Museum Services, located inside the main entrance of the Permanent Exhibit Halls.
- Please note that our Sensory Guide evaluates loud noises and extreme quiet with equal high sound rating. In the same way, extreme dark and extreme light are evaluated with equal high visual stimulation ratings. Halls were evaluated in this way as each extreme can be potential triggers to someone with sensory sensitivities.
- Become a member in order to utilize these resources and visit HMNS whenever you’d like for a full year!
- Please note that most Special Exhibits are one-time entry only, so make sure to plan enough time to see the whole exhibit!
Below is a Sensory Evaluation of our current Special Exhibits at the museum:
|Several items to touch|
|Some loud videos|
|Activity room at end of exhibit|
|Fabergé: Royal Gifts featuring the Trellis Egg Surprise
|Bright cases and loud videos|
|Out of the Amazon: Life on the River||Sensitive material displayed in exhibit|