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Bloomington Man Builds Sensory Mobile Museum For Kids With Autism

Ryan Abbott's dream of creating a mobile museum for children with autism and special needs has become a reality.

Abbott created That Kid Place in 2019 to help children with sensory issues.

“My son is autistic and from the parent side of it I saw a need for sensory that was maybe more common sense or kid friendly,” said Abbott, of Bloomington. “There's a lot of medical and a lot of science to autism but there's also a lot of common sense too. I don't have to be a doctor to understand autism, I'm a parent. If I can take something I know how to do and use it to their benefit, it's what I'll do.”

In 2019, Abbott created his first mobile museum, Pile of Ship, but quickly realized that not all kids could benefit from that version. Abbott wanted to make sure kids with wheelchairs could enter the museum. So with his second attempt, called That Kid Place, Abbott wanted to make sure it was inclusive of all children.

Credit Cindy Hernandez
Ryan Abbott built several Lego exhibits into That Kid Place to help children with sensory therapy.

The second version is a 26-foot enclosed trailer that is wheelchair accessible with dual air conditioning and electrical. The museum’s exhibits include a steampunk laboratory, Legos, laser drawing and a treehouse fort. 

“It’s hard for me to put that autism and special needs label on it,” said Abbott. “You don’t have to be on the spectrum to benefit from sensory. I see kids really enjoying this stuff and they’re not on the spectrum at all.”

After 22 years working at State Farm, Abbott took a buyout and created his nonprofit organization. He has invested over $70,000 into it. Abbott said he will be raising money through the end of March so he can continue to develop the museum.

“It does feel so good when the kids go in it and you see it working like you hoped it would work,” said Abbott. “Every $100 donated is an hour of museum time. I found a way to offer my services for basically nothing.”

The donations will help Abbott travel with the museum at little to no cost. Abbott said the museum is available by request for school events and birthday parties.

Abbott said his goal is to build two more mobile museums with different themes.

“2020 has already taken off and I'm literally one guy,” said Abbott. “I’m going to let it grow into what it wants to do. I don't want to be the person that holds it back either.”

If the organization continues to do well, Abbott said he will look into putting That Kid Place in a permanent location.

“People have just believed in me and gotten me to where I'm at,” said Abbott. “I’m at a starting point right now and I couldn't be here if it wasn't for the people backing me.”

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Cindy Hernandez is a reporting and social media intern at WGLT. She's a senior in Illinois State University's School of Communication.