Subway Sleuths: Award-Winning Autism Program Is Taking Applications Now!

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We know you’ve got a lot of important dates to remember in the next few weeks (doctor’s appointment, registration for after-school, and of course, the first day back), but for families with children on the autism spectrum, another important deadline is approaching: the due date for the New York City Transit Museum’s award-winning after-school program, Subway Sleuths. (It’s September 1.) Read on to find out if it’s a good fit for your family, and how you can apply.

photo: NYC Transit Museum

About Subway Sleuths
Founded more than six years ago, Subway Sleuths is an after-school program for students in 2nd through 5th grades who are on the autism spectrum. The program uses a shared interest in trains among kids on the autism spectrum as a means to encourage peer-to-peer interaction and develop social skills and confidence. “Like anyone, these kids perform better when they’re in their comfort zone and they’re doing something they love,” says Regina Asborno, Deputy Director of the New York City Transit Museum.

Groups are intentionally kept small (a maximum of six kids) and all activities take place while the museum is closed to the public, so that the sleuths have all the trains, buses and turnstiles to themselves.

Created with input from experts in autism spectrum disorder and special education, Subway Sleuths has graduated almost 150 students, and 100 percent of parents of Subway Sleuths report the program exceeded their expectations. Sleuths come from all over the city to participate in the program.

Its success has not gone unnoticed. The program is the recipient of the 2016 American Alliance of Museums’ Excellence in Programming Award, a 2012 Autism Speaks grant, and just last year, Subway Sleuths received a National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award — the highest honor an after-school program can receive — at the White House from then first lady Michelle Obama.

photo: NYC Transit Museum Facebook page 

Who’s a Sleuth and What Do They Do?
Subway Sleuth groups are created through advance screenings by expert facilitators, who curate groups of kids with similar social and communication profiles. (Due to the necessity of keeping the groups small, unfortunately not all applicants can be accepted. However, the museum holds additional programming for children and people of differing abilities through its Access Programs.)

Using a strength-based approach over 10 sessions, participants explore the New York Transit Museum, solve transit mysteries, become transit experts and share their enthusiasm with others. Each session is facilitated by a special education teacher, a speech-language pathologist, and a Transit Museum educator, all trained in supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

photo: New York City Transit Museum/Marc A. Hermann

Fun & Games
Working in pairs and collaborating as a group enables the Museum’s “Sleuths” to practice different forms of social engagement.

Games include “Hold the Pole”, during which kids are asked about their likes and dislikes. i.e., “Who likes pizza?” “Who loves to drive the bus?” Those who do hold a central subway pole, and a connection between them is drawn. Sleuths also play “Dispatcher,” a train-themed hide-and-seek, during which one child hides and the group works together to find him or her.

photo: New York City Transit Museum/Marc A. Hermann 

Important Subway Sleuth Deets & Dates
Sound like a good fit for your family?

The deadline for applications is September 1 at 5 p.m.; go here to learn more and fill one out.

2nd and 3rd graders meet on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons from 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

4th and 5th graders meet on Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.

Screening sessions are scheduled for September 12 (Wednesday group), September 14 (Thursday group) and September 16 (Saturday group).

The cost of the Subway Sleuths program is $350 for 10-weeks, and scholarships are available, with 48 percent of participants receiving assistance.


Has your child participated in the Subway Sleuths program? Tell us about the experience in the comments! 

— Mimi O’Connor