Since we home-school my autistic son, Michael, we are always looking for new places to take him to expand his horizons, provide different environments in which he can practice and generalize his newly learned skills, and simply to have fun. Read on for some tips on how to come up with places that would be ideal for your child with special needs. Then, check out some of the great places we’ve taken Michael to over the years that haven’t cost us a dime!
1. What does your child like?
When brainstorming about places to visit, think of things your child likes. If it’s animals, think about local farms. If it’s airplanes, check out your local airport.
2. Keep your eyes and ears open
Michael loves sheep so I once did a u-turn on a country road to determine the address of a barn where I spotted a flock of sheep grazing. I then did a ‘reverse-lookup’ online, found the farmer’s phone number and gave him a ring. A lovely gentleman by the name of Anton was more than happy to have Michael come out and see his animals. Now, “Anton’s Farm” is one of Michael’s favorite destinations!
3. Don’t be shy!
I can’t tell you how many Dalmatian owners I’ve stopped in their tracks to introduce myself and explain Michael’s love of this breed. Once they get over the initial shock of being stalked, they have all been so understanding and generous with their time, inviting us over for doggie visits on many occasions.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask
The worst thing that can happen is that you get a “no”. I’ve made many requests over the years for Michael to visit people’s homes and places of work. I’d say that nine times out of ten, they are more than happy to help.
5. Explain your child’s special need
Educate people before your visit about your child and his or her disability. More often than not, people’s fears can be attributed to ignorance. If your child flaps his hands or makes loud noises, for example, give them the heads-up, assuring them that it is just your child’s unique way of expressing delight or excitement.
6. Call or email first
If you are thinking of visiting a place that is not traditionally open to the public, call ahead and explain your situation. Chances are they will be more receptive to a visit if they have some advanced notice.
If your child loves animals:
1. A local animal breeder
An animal breeder may be willing to let your child play and pet the animals they are breeding. A great way to find them is throught sites like Kijiji.ca (canada only) Ebay Classifieds or Cragislist where they often advertise puppies, kittens, etc. for sale.
2. A Farm
Establishing relationships with farmers could also be helpful down the road when you are looking for vocational opportunities for your child. Michael loves his visits to a local dairy farm and there are plenty of tasks that he could gradually learn there like feeding the calves, sweeping etc.
3. A dog training school
A dog training school may let you interact with the dogs durin their “recess”. You can even request to watch classes that are just for puppies!
4. A pet store
My love of animals does not extend into the reptile family. So, when Michael wants to watch snakes and lizards, we take him to a nearby pet store. Some of these shops even specialize in reptiles and amphibians.
5. The racetrack
The racetrack can be a lot of fun for animal lovers. We took my son to a racetrack (and in case you are wondering there was no gambling) and he loved it. Here is a blog I wrote about how educational and enjoyable a visit to the track can be!
6. An animal rescue organization
Almost every breed of dog has its own local rescue group or site. We even have a donkey sanctuary nearby! Visit Petfinder.com to find a animal shelter near you.
If your child loves vehicles:
7. The Airport
The airport, an airplane museum or a spot under a runway are great ideas if your child likes planes. If you decide to go for the outdoor option, I’d highly recommend headphones as those planes can get pretty loud when you’re standing right underneath!
8. Watching Trains
Find a good trainspotting location, train station, or a busy railway crossing. Just make sure you and your child keep a safe distance when the trains pass.
If your child loves music:
9. A rehearal of your local orchestra
While it took a few weeks to arrange, it was well worth the wait as Michael really enjoyed it! If this proves to difficult consider going to high school band practice, or smaller theatre groups as they often won’t mind having a few people in the seats.
If your child loves the outdoors:
10. A walk in the woods
Bring a net to catch and release frogs, make a list or photo diary of all of the animals you see on your walk, take pictures of beautiful flowers or play eye-spy. The sky is the limit!
11. A greenhouse or community garden
For colder climate dwellers, a large greenhouse can be a much-needed break from the harsh weather of wintertime. In the summer, a garden can be an excellent opportunity to learn how to take care of plants.
Top painting: Watching The Trains by Kevin Walsh