At age 9, Ian Aquino knows how to stay safe on a subway.
The Harlem boy knows not to walk between cars, because “you’ll be in bad trouble” and fall onto the tracks. He doesn’t lean on the door and he knows to keep his hands off trains in the station.
But when he’s in the Transit Museum in Brooklyn, Ian can go wherever his curiosity takes him.
“You can touch the trains here!” he said. “You get to go onto any train.”
Susana Montes, 46 and her son Ian Aquino, 9, at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn.
Ian, who is autistic, is fascinated by the subway. He especially likes the way it moves, demonstrating by sprinting up the middle of a vintage train car and making the noise of a speeding train.
His mother, Susana Montes, has nurtured his interest by enrolling him in the museum’s Subway Sleuths program for kids like him.
He’s already done it twice.
“Every time we took the train he was really happy, and it was hard to get him out of the train. He didn’t want to leave,” she said. “I saw this as a way of providing him happiness.”
Subway Sleuths’ success is being recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama, who is granting it the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award at the White House on Tuesday, along with 11 other after-school programs. The 10-week Sleuths program allows kids to develop social skills with other children who share their obsession with trains. They can go on scavenger hunts around the museum, build train sets and make transit-themed art.
The staff also uses transit terms, like telling kids to “link up” like train cars, instead “line up,” Regina Asborno, deputy director for the museum.
Maria Farley, 47, Ian Aquino, 9, and his mother Susana Montes, 46, at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn.
Subway Sleuths allows Maria Farley’s son Alastair, 9, to express himself more. “He’s become a little know-it-all now,” she said. “He’s comfortable with speaking to me and speaking to other people about his interests and being able to express himself without any fear, without any reservations. … It’s empowering.”
Like a rush-hour train, it’s tough to get in — the museum receives up to 40 applications for just 18 slots each semester, at a cost of $350. Subway Sleuths is run by a Transit Museum educator, a speech language pathologist and special-education teacher, all of whom were trained to work with children with autism.
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