Life Science Centre, in Newcastle, has become the first visitor attraction to ever receive our Gold Standard Autism Acceptance Award.

The award recognises the innovative three-year partnership between Life and NEAS which has led to improvements in the visitor experience for autistic people, as well as increasing staff’s understanding of autism and neurodiversity through on-going specialist training.

This partnership began in 2018, with families from NEAS’s community forming an advisory group to ensure that the Life Science Centre experience, from its exhibitions to its cafes, is accessible and welcoming to autistic people. The partnership has received widespread recognition and attention and has been hailed as an example of best practice by the science centre community globally and other attractions.

Linda Conlon, Chief Executive at Life, said: “This partnership is a great example of what can be achieved when two organisations work together. It’s been a real two-way street in terms of collaboration and learning.

One of the things that makes this relationship unique is the collaborative approach we’ve adopted. The families have been actively involved in shaping the changes we’ve made, including prototyping and designing two major new exhibitions and developing the new programme of Sensory-friendly Sundays, dedicated quiet hours for people with autism and other sensory needs, which launched early last year.

"It’s a huge accolade to see this team effort recognised as Gold Standard – and on World Autism Day!"

As part of the award, the popular Newcastle attraction has hosted a monthly science group for autistic young people, who got involved in the design of new exhibits and changes to the centre, for example changes to the flooring. 

Joella, 13, is one of the young people who regularly attended the group, named E=mc2, prior to the pandemic, and mum Michelle says the difference it has made in her daughter is unbelievable.

"It has had such a huge impact, not only on Joella's life, but also on my own," Michelle said. "Joella has made some really strong friendships with other children in the group, and I've developed a really strong support network with the other mums.

"The group was just totally different to all of the other after school groups she's been to as it was completely geared towards the children's needs. Since starting the group, Joella's self confidence has increased so much and she has realised that her opinion matters.

"It has just provided her with a sense of belonging and ownership, and that's something she's never had before."

Kerrie Highcock, Family Development Manager at NEAS, said: “For over 40 years, The North East Autism Society has been a leading provider of neurodiversity and autism-specific care, education, training and employment services across the North East of England.

We are thrilled to be awarding Life Science Centre with the Gold Standard in recognition of their ongoing dedication to autism acceptance and accessibility.

In the past year, Life and NEAS have shared their experiences at global online conferences in the United Kingdom, United States and Europe.

And during the pandemic, Life has created online science activities - such as stargazing and birdwatching - for NEAS to keep families entertained while home-schooling.