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Jennifer Lovy
BY Jennifer Lovy

11 Sensory Friendly Entertainment Options for Special Needs Families

Our son Evan is about to turn eight. He wants his birthday party at a roller skating rink but he asked that we make it “sensory friendly.”

For Evan, sensory-friendly skating means no loud music, no dark skating rink and no flashing lights. Because these features are part of the ambiance skaters expect from a roller rink, hosting a skating party was not a viable option.

We wanted to give Evan the party he requested so we found a solution that could benefit not only our son but other children with special needs and sensory issues.

We contacted the Friendship Circle to see if they could help us plan a sensory-friendly event. With their help and the cooperation of a nearby skating rink, families who have never had the opportunity to visit a roller rink can now do so in a way that will feel safe and comfortable and Evan can have his sensory-friendly birthday party.

An increasing number of entertainment venues are offering sensory-friendly options for families who would otherwise not be able to enjoy activities such as going to the movies, seeing a live performance or participating in indoor recreational activities.

Below are some sensory-friendly venues around the country:

2. Major League Baseball Games

Major League BaseballA number of Major League Baseball teams offer sensory friendly evenings  (often on Autism Awareness Night). Accommodations include sections of the ballpark where the speaker volume is lowered, quiet rooms are made available, activities are provided and tickets are given away to individuals with autism.

3. AMC Theaters

AMC TheatersOnce a month AMC Theaters around the country offer a sensory-friendly screening of a kid-friendly movie. During these designated show times the lights are brighter, previews are eliminated and the volume is turned down. Families are also allowed to bring outside food to accommodate dietary restrictions.

4. Sky Zone

SkyzoneLast April, as part of Autism Awareness Month, the indoor trampoline park nearest to us held a sensory-friendly jump session. The music was turned off and families were allowed to jump for half the price of regular admission. The event was so successful that it became a monthly event. There more than 100 Sky Zone franchises across the U.S.  and Canada and many offer similar programs.

5. Pump It Up

pump-it-upTwo and a half years ago, Pump It Up, a national franchise offering indoor inflatables held what was billed as the first nationwide “sensory entertainment program for children with autism.”  Our local Pump It Up continues to offer sensory jumps once a month as do many other locations around the country.  Modifications are made depending on the needs of those in attendance but typically music will be turned off as will some of the equipment if the inflatable blowers are too loud.

6. NASCAR race at Dover International Speedway

NascarIn late May or early June of each year, Autism Speaks co-sponsors a day at the races at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware.  During the event those on the autism spectrum and their families can see a NASCAR race in a sensory-friendly environment. Seating is in a designated indoor grandstand that features a quiet room, muted lighting as well as a break room with games and other activities.  A 2014 date has not yet been set but information from last year’s event can be seen here.

7. Broadway Shows

A New York non-profit organization called the Theatre Development Fund, wanted Broadway theater to become more accessible to individuals with autism. As a result, just two years ago, the Lion King became the first autism-friendly performance of a Broadway show. Upcoming sensory-friendly Broadway shows include Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark on November 16 at the Foxwoods Theatre and Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre on March 2, 2014.

To make these performances sensory friendly, adjustments to the productions include noise reduction and decreased use of strobe lights in the audience.  Quiet areas and an activity area are also made available. Additionally, downloadable social stories with pictures of the theaters and productions can be obtained prior to the performances.

8. Sesame Street Live

Sesame-Street-Live-LogoAt the beginning of 2013 Sesame Street Live held its first sensory friendly show at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. The show featured several accommodations for the audience. Organizers provided parents with production notes in advance so that kids could be prepared. Quiet room where made available for anyone needing a break during the performance and extra space was offered in the seating areas so that audience members can move around. Sesame Street Live is planning on producing more sensory friendly shows around the country.

9-11. Disney On Ice, Disney Jr.,Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus

Disney on IceWhere I live, one of the larger sporting-event venues is offering, for the first time, sensory-friendly performances of Disney on Ice, Disney Jr., and Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Depending on the performance, activities could include a pre or post show behind-the-scenes presentation, photo opportunities with characters, a show running-order and effect descriptions to help viewers better anticipate special noises and effects, and an on-site quite room. The shows’ promoter said similar experiences are available in certain areas and advises checking directly with your local venues.

Is there a local place you’d like to see become sensory friendly for a few hours? If so, call them and see if they would be willing to offer a sensory friendly session or performance.  Most likely your answer will be yes.

Top Photo Credit Flickr/mnrollergirls

Jennifer Lovy

Written on October 30, 2013 by:

Jennifer Lovy is a freelance writer, part-time accounting manager, recovering attorney, and perpetual advocate for her three children, particularly her son with autism. She shares daily life with Evan on her own blog