New York City offers countless cultural events and fun kid-friendly activities for all families, including those of children with special needs. Visit the museums, local community centers, and more for special programming that is created with your child with special needs in mind.
Children with special needs, disabilities, or sensory issues can face certain challenges when it comes to connecting with peers and making friends, especially when many are uncomfortable or unable to participate in all kid-friendly activities. Here, a list of kid-friendly venues in New York City and its boroughs, including museums and the public libraries, that dedicate time and space for children with special needs and all abilities to have fun, play, and most importantly, and interact and make friends with each other.
Autism Theatre Initiative, a program of the NYC-based nonprofit Theatre Development Fund, regularly presents autism-friendly theater performances. The program has included Broadway shows such as The Lion King and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark as well as performances of Disney Junior Live on Tour. Shows are typically in Midtown Manhattan, either in Broadway theaters or at Madison Square Garden.
Visit tdf.org/autism to sign up to receive notifications on future performances.
For those with physical disabilities, TDF also presents ASL Interpreted/Audio Described/Open Captioned Performances, which help make Broadway shows more enjoyable for people who have limited hearing or sight. For tickets to these performances, you must apply for a TDF Accessibility Membership at tdf.org/tap (there’s no fee, but you must have a documented physical limitation to apply).
More than Reading at the Library
The Brooklyn Public Library has launched The Child’s Place for Children with Special Needs, which is dedicated to providing unique programs for children with and without disabilities (from newborn to age 12). These free programs, which include read and play activities, gardening workshops, and educational events for parents, are hosted at the following library locations:
• Flatlands Library, 2065 Flatbush Ave., 718-253-4948 (voice), 718-253-5034 (TTY)
• Greenpoint Library, 107 Norman Ave., 718-349-8504
• Red Hook Library, 7 Wolcott St., 718-935-0203
• Saratoga Library, 8 Thomas S. Boyland St., 718-573-5224
• Sunset Park Library, 5108 Fourth Ave., 718-567-2806
These five Brooklyn Public Libraries are wheelchair accessible, and staff members are specially trained to work with children who have special needs.
Get Movin' at the Y
The Samuel Field Y offers a twice-weekly after-school program for preschool-aged children (ages 3-6) with developmental disabilities. This year-round program features adaptive physical education followed by a professionally facilitated play experience in a personalized setting.
Programs are ongoing and may be joined at any time. Supportive assistance for parents and activities for siblings are also provided. Cost is $5 (scholarship assistance is available). For more information, contact Robin Topol, director of special services, at [email protected] or 718-225-6750 x259.
Monday Magic: Learn & Play
Bay Terrace Center of the Samuel Field Y, 212-00 23rd Ave., Bayside
Gym & Creative Exploration
Samuel Field Y, 58-20 Little Neck Parkway, Little Neck
The Y also offers a monthly Special Teens program that meets on Sunday afternoons and is geared for high-functioning and independent teens with developmental disabilities. Contact Robin Topol for more information.
The Met for Children with Special Needs
The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Manhattan’s Upper East Side hosts several programs for visitors with disabilities.
Deaf or Hearing Loss
For visitors who are deaf, the museum regularly presents sign language-interpreted gallery talks, and some family programs are presented in ASL. Sign language interpreters can also be requested for specific museum programs. For visitors with hearing loss, a limited number of FM assistive listening devices are available at the Audio Guide Desk in the Great Hall.
Blind or Low Vision
The Met hosts regular programs for visitors who are blind or partially sighted, including the monthly Picture This! series in which children (ages 5-17) and their families can explore works of art using all of their available senses. Upcoming workshops are scheduled for May 4 (Amazing Faces: Exploring Masks) and July 20 (Artistic Clothing). The program is free but registration is required. You can also request a Guided Touch Tour of the Egyptian galleries, a visit to the Touch Collection, or a Verbal Imaging Tour of the museum.
Developmental and Learning Disabilities
The museum offers multisensory workshops for children ages 6-17 and adults that include tactile opportunities and art-making activities. Upcoming workshops are scheduled for April 21, Sounds of Art; May 5 and May 19, Night at the Museum;, and July 21 and Aug. 11, Clay Creations. These workshops are free, but registration is required.
To register for these programs or sign up to receive bimonthly listings of these events via email, call 212-650-2010 or email [email protected]
• Movie Theaters in the NYC Area That Play Sensory-Friendly Films
• Inclusive Activities and Events for Kids with Special Needs in the NYC Suburbs & Fairfield County, CT
• Inclusive Activities and Events on Long Island for Kids with Special Needs