North Carolina Sea Grant

March 20, 2020 | Chloe Tenn

The N.C. Maritime Museum at Southport has suspended public operations as part of the state’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.  When the museum reopens, its staff will be poised to reintroduce exciting new programming.

A small museum has earned a big distinction: The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport is the state’s first Certified Autism Center.

“This is a remarkable achievement for the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport and its entire staff,” North Carolina Maritime Museums Director Joseph Schwarzer Jr. said.  “I couldn’t be prouder.”

Museum staff and volunteers completed the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) comprehensive training and certification process to earn the Certified Autism Center (CAC) designation for the site. That effort was part of a continued commitment to providing a supportive environment for guests with autism and other sensory disorders.

“We’ve done a lot of work with the special needs population in our part of North Carolina,” the museum’s Education Curator Katy Menne said. “We wanted to take that to the next level.”

Menne said they started the conversation about the certification process with IBCCES and found that the museum’s efforts and goals were already similar to what IBCCES required of its partners.

“What we’ve instituted has aligned with what they wanted us to do and what their protocols are,” she said. “For me, it was nice to see we were on the right track.”

For over 20 years, IBCCES has been the industry leader in autism certification for healthcare, education and corporate professionals around the globe. IBCCES recognized that many families with children who have special needs have limited travel options. In response to this need, IBCCES created training and certification programs specifically for the hospitality and attractions industry.

“This process gave us the opportunity to look more deeply at how we are serving everyone who visits the museum,” said Lori Sanderlin, manager of the Southport museum.

Museum staff, she explained, focused on identifying areas that, due to a variety of reasons, could make visitors feel uncomfortable and addressing that. Through training and collaboration as a team, they developed methods for de-escalating situations and providing a safe, welcoming, comfortable and accepting environment for all.

One of those welcoming ways is through the monthly Sensory Saturdays, a program designed for those on the spectrum. The free program is offered the first Saturday of each month from 9 to 11 a.m. at the museum, located at 204 E. Moore St. in downtown Southport.

During that time, the lights are dimmed, and the audio throughout the museum is turned off. The monthly drop-in program also features a craft to incorporate more hands-on experiences. Volunteers and staff are available to assist as much — or as little — as needed.

Those who are less sensitive to external stimuli are, of course, also welcome to participate. Museum staff just asks that they use quiet voices and be mindful of the other patrons during Sensory Saturdays.

IBCCES is the only credentialing organization providing this type of certification, which includes evidence-based information as well as the perspectives of individuals with autism, alongside other tools and resources such as onsite reviews and customized recommendations to ensure the program is a long-term commitment and has a lasting impact.

“North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport staff and volunteers are now better equipped to meet the needs of all guests,” IBCCES Board Chairman Myron Pincomb said, “and we’re proud to work with them on this initiative.”

Information about the museum and its newly earned designation will be included on, a free online resource hosted by IBCCES for parents that lists certified destinations and connects families to other resources and each other. Each destination listed on the site has met CAC requirements.

“It’s something that’s putting North Carolina on the map as an inclusive state,” Menne, the education curator, said. “It’s our county. It’s our city. It’s the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

“This is taking our museum to the next step.”

For more information on Sensory Saturday or other museum programming, call 910-477-5151 or visit

For more information on IBCCES or becoming a Certified Autism Center, visit

The N.C. Department. of Natural and Cultural Resources updates the status of its facilities at

photo: Sensory Saturdays at the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport

This post is adapted from a press release from the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.



Comments are closed.