Fun in the Community: Hanging Out Special Needs Style

Do you want to see a movie? Jump on a trampoline? Visit a museum? Bounce on some inflatables? Swim at a water park? If you have a child with complex needs, some of these trips may be very challenging. Your kid might vocalize through the entire movie. She might get jumped on while trying to bounce on some inflatables. He might get overwhelmed by hundreds of loud people at a water park or museum.

Fortunately, many community locations now offer nights or mornings specifically for children with special needs. And even better, many of them are free!


movieAMC Theatres pioneered Sensory Friendly Films, a monthly event that occurs all over the country. Each month, a popular film is chosen, and the theatre is reserved for families with special needs. Lights remain on, the sound is turned down, and the environment is welcoming to children who might make noise, move around, or otherwise act like kids! While created for children with autism, the program works well for many children with special needs. For more information, see

Sensory friendly films have been spreading like wildfire recently, and many other movie theatres are now offering a monthly film for families with special needs. Check with your local theatres to see if a program exists, and if not, get one started. Some even allow families to bring special foods into the theatre.

Many theatres also offer a weekly “baby-friendly” matinee. These are intended for moms and dads to come to the movies with infants without being concerned about the baby crying. While some show family friendly films, others are geared toward the adults, so be careful when choosing your theatre and film. Most welcome families with special needs, who may make a bit more noise or require more accommodations. Check with your local theatre for available programs.

Bouncing and Jumping

trampolineLots of kids love to bounce and jump, but they may have trouble participating due to the chaos that tends to exist at trampoline and inflatable franchises. Many of these companies now offer a special needs night that is much calmer and safer for children with medical needs. Pump it Up, for example, offers Sensory Jump Time at selected locations, either monthly or yearly. Skyhigh Sports, a trampoline entertainment company, offers special needs jumps monthly at its locations throughout the United States. Children with special needs are admitted at a reduced rate. Other local companies may offer similar events for children with special needs. Check your local companies for special needs nights, or suggest they offer one if they don’t already.


Many children’s museums offer a special needs or sensory time each month, usually in the morning before the museum opens, or in the evening after it closes. Contact your local children’s museum for more information. Some of these limit admissions during these times to a small number of people, often as few as 100 people. These events work really well for families who need a little extra time to navigate the museum, or who need a calmer atmosphere.

Other museums, especially those geared toward children, may also offer similar services. Some are very willing to accommodate families with complex needs if asked. Contact your local museums for more information.

Swimming Pools and Water Parks

swimmingThese days, all swimming pools are required to have disability access, so swimming is now a possibility for many more children. Zero depth entry pools are becoming commonplace, meaning even the most physically disabled children can get into the water. Even better, some pools are now hosting special needs swims, when the pool is a bit quieter and calmer. Many YMCAs have begun to offer special swim classes geared toward children with special needs, including autism. Local parks will also often offer special recreational swims. Contact your local pool for more information, and to suggest this option if it does not exist already.

Some water parks, such as the Great Wolf Lodge chain, are known for their ongoing accommodations for people with disabilities. A few have special needs events on a monthly basis.

Special Recreation

The United States has a robust system of special recreation, with nearly every city and town park district offering recreation events. While events vary from Special Olympics to social events, there is likely something for everyone. Simply Google your location and the term “special recreation” to find out what is available in your area.


These days, almost anyone can bowl! Virtually all bowling alleys now offer ramps to allow young children and people with disabilities an easy way to bowl. Occasionally, some will even offer a special ramp with a switch-operated mechanism to allow individuals with severe disabilities to play. Contact your local bowling alley for more information.

Ice Skating

With the rise in popularity of sled hockey, many ice rinks now offer sled rentals for people with mobility challenges. Children who use a wheelchair but do not need significant positioning equipment can use these sleds on the ice rink. Check with your local rink for availability.

National Parks

Did you know that anyone with a permanent disability can get an Access Pass that allows free access to all national parks and other federally-operated recreational locations? The pass is available for free at any federal recreation site, or can be obtained through the mail for $10. Your entire family is allowed in for free with the Access Pass. See for more details.

Have Some Fun!

The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that recreational locations be made accessible for people with disabilities. If your child has unique needs, make a call and ask if it can be accommodated. More often than not, community recreation locations are happy to help you out. Have a lot of fun!

Author: Susan Agrawal • Date: 11/25/2013

Articles in This Edition

Facebook Comments