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Inclusive Activities and Events for Children with Special Needs in New York

Inclusive Activities and Events for Children with Special Needs in New York

These venues in NYC and its suburbs will encourage kids with and without special needs to explore, play, and grow together!


UPDATED NOVEMBER 2019: 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 the New York area, 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.

 

Inclusive Fun for Kids with Special Needs in Manhattan

Inclusive Shows and Theater in Manhattan

Big Apple Circus: Circus of the Senses
60 Lincoln Center Plaza, Upper West Side, Manhattan
929-227-1262

This circus offers performances for children with visual and hearing impairments. For kids with visual impairments, two Big Apple employees describe the show out loud so kids can “see” the performances with their ears. American Sign Language interpreters help kids who have difficulty hearing “hear” performers with their eyes. The circus also gives these kids performance items to play with before and after the performance, and they can meet some of the performers as well! For kids with autism, Big Apple Circus reduces the light and sound of the show to make it less overstimulating and sets up a quiet area for kids to relax in if they get overwhelmed.

Broadway for All through the Theater Development Fund
TDF recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and announced an entire season of autism-friendly performances. For each show, TDF purchases every seat in the theater and makes them available exclusively to families of kids who have autism—and at reduced prices. Each show adjusts lighting and sound to be more sensory-friendly, and staffs lobbies and break areas with trained specialists who can assist any child who needs to leave their seat during a performance. Families can download narratives with pictures of the theaters and productions before every show.

For kids 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. TDF also guarantees accessible seating for anyone who has limited physical mobility or is in a wheelchair. 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).

New Victory Theater
209 W. 42nd St., Midtown, Manhattan
At New Victory Theater, all performances are wheelchair accessible; there are no stairs on the Orchestra level, and wheelchair lifts reach the balcony and mezzanine. Assisted listening devices are available at every performance, audio-described and sign-interpreted performances are available for some shows, and some performances are sensory-friendly for kids with autism.

New York City Children’s Theater
410 W. 42nd St., Midtown, Manhattan
212-573-8791

The Children’s Theater puts on sensory-friendly additional performances of each of its productions. Lights and sounds are reduced, audience members can enter and exit as they please and vocalize during the performance, and autism specialists are on site ready to provide support. Families can also request sensory support objects such as fidget spinners or earplugs.

Symphony Space
2537 Broadway at 95th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan
212-864-5400

Instead of having specific shows that are sensory-friendly, this venue has made the decision to make all of its productions inclusive. The house lights are turned up, sound levels are lowered, and the atmosphere is inclusive. There is also a break out space for families to go if it gets too much. Information is available about the shows in advance, and if families need to tour before the show, that’s also possible.

 

Inclusive Museums in Manhattan

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Ave., Upper East Side, Manhattan
212-650-2010
access@metmuseum.org

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. This includes MetFridays Met Signs Tour. 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 that allows visitors who are blind or partially sighted to enjoy works of art through detailed descriptions, touch, and more. Seeing Through Drawing workshops teach visitors innovative drawing techniques through experimentation with materials, verbal descriptions, and creative response to works of arts. Upcoming workshops are scheduled for April 13 and May 11. The workshops are free, but registration is required. You may also request a Touch Collection session, Verbal Imaging Tour, or Guided Touch Tour by contacting the museum.

Developmental and Learning Disabilities: The museum offers multisensory workshops for children ages 5-17 and adults that include tactile opportunities and art-making activities. Upcoming workshops are scheduled for April 28, Treasure and Trade, and May 19, Drawing Tales. 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 access@metmuseum.org.

 

Inclusive Fun for Kids with Special Needs in Brooklyn

Inclusive Libraries in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Public Library
The Brooklyn Public Library offers the Inclusive Services program which is dedicated to providing unique programs for children with and without disabilities (from newborn to age 21). 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
  • Central Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza, 718-230-2100

These six Brooklyn Public Libraries are wheelchair accessible, and staff members are specially trained to work with children who have special needs.

 

Inclusive Gyms in Brooklyn 

Extreme Kids & Crew
71 Sullivan St., Red Hook, Brooklyn
62-85 Forest Ave., Ridgewood, Queens
347-410-6050
info@extremekidsandcrew.org

Extreme Kids & Crew in Brooklyn and Queens offers open play with a ball pit, variety of swings, mountains of “foofs” and “crash pads,” gymnastics mats, and more. This open play is offered from 1-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays in Redhook and from 1-4pm on Saturdays in Ridgewood.


Inclusive Museums in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Ave., Crown Heights, Brooklyn
718-735-4400

The Sensory Room at the Brooklyn Children's Museum (open year-round, sessions offered 2-2:30pm, 2:45-3:15pm, 3:30-4pm, 4:15-4:45pm) allows kids with special needs (especially ASD) to engage and explore their senses using interactive equipment.

 

Inclusive Fun for Kids with Special Needs in Queens

Inclusive Centers in Queens

Commonpoint Queens
Sam Field Center, 58-20 Little Neck Parkway, Little Neck
718-225-6750
Bay Terrace Center, 212-00 23rd Ave., Bayside
718-423-6111
Central Queens, 67-09 108th St., Forest Hills
718-268-5011

Commonpoint Queens offers a variety of programs designed to meet the social, emotional, educational, and recreational needs of children with ASD and other disabilities across multiple locations. Each child must be individually interviewed for each of these programs so the professional staff can welcome the child and properly assist in the selection of programs that would best help your child succeed.

The Sam Field Center in Little Neck offers after-school programs for individuals with developmental disabilities ages 5-21, school holiday programs, and weekend teen programs.

The Bay Terrace Center offers after-school programs for children and teens Monday-Friday throughout the school year as well as social skills groups for both ages 5-8 and 9-12.

The Central Queens Center offers music, yoga, workout, and social skills classes once a week for children ages 5-8 as well as social skills, cooking, dance fitness, and music classes once a week for children ages 9-16

Commonpoint Queens also offers a variety of summer programs for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities ages 5-21. For more information about these programs, contact Amanda Smith, LMSW, senior director of Special Services at Commonpoint Queens’ Sam Field Center in Little Neck.

 

Inclusive Museums in Queens

New York Hall of Science
47-01 111th St., Corona, Queens
718-683-9365
dmeza@nysci.org

The New York Hall of Science in Queens now hosts free Family Science Adventures for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Young kids (ages 3-5) with ASD, along with their parents and siblings, can participate in hands-on science experiments and sensory-rich art projects. Workshops are limited to 10 children, who can practice focus and concentration, social cognition, collaboration and teamwork, listening and comprehension skills, and more. Pre-registration is required, for more information call 718-683-9365 or email dmeza@nysci.org.

 

Inclusive Fun for Kids with Special Needs on Long Island

Inclusive Amusement Parks on Long Island
 

Adventureland
2245 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale 
631-694-6868

Adventureland has many gentle, safe rides such as the wave swing, the train, a merry-go-round, the Ferris wheel, and the rattlesnake coaster. The park’s special needs pass is good for one child and three other people, and allows everyone to be first in line for any rides they’d like to experience.

Air Trampoline
1850 Lakeland Ave., Ronkonkoma
631-619-6000

This trampoline park hosts a dedicated, private special needs hour on the first Sunday of every month at 10am. During this time, the environment is less crowded, quieter, and less stimulating. Special needs birthday parties are also available.

 

Inclusive Museums on Long Island

Long Island Children’s Museum
11 Davis Ave., Garden City
516-224-5800

All of the galleries at the Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City are wheelchair-accessible. Galleries include an area devoted to bubbles, a live animal exhibit, the “Sound Showers” exhibit that allows kids to get creative with music and sounds, and more. The museum also offers “Friendly Hours,” a bi-monthly museum time for families with children who are neuro-divergent or have physical challenges when the museum makes alterations to lighting and sound. There is also a sensory-friendly theater, sensory room, assistive devices, visual vocabulary cards, and ASL interpreted performances. If you want to avoid large crowds, the museum suggests visiting during weekday afternoons during the school year, sunny weekends during the summer, and nice-weather weekends during the fall and spring. The museum is most crowded during school breaks and inclement weather days.

Children’s Museum of the East End
376 Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike, Bridgehampton
631-537-8250

Most programming at the museum is ideal for kids ages 2-6 who can participate in art studio workshops, cooking classes, and more. But the museum says they can make any program inclusive by adjusting to each individual child’s developmental and comfort level. Workshop classes are small groups in contained classroom environments. The museum also provides 1-to-1 support for their summer programs on a case-by-case basis. This is a great place for a child to go with his or her speech, occupational, or physical therapist.

 

Inclusive Playgrounds and Play Spaces on Long Island

Coe Hall & Park Sensory Garden 
Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park
1395 Planting Fields Road, Oyster Bay

This all-inclusive garden allows all kids to enjoy a peaceful, grounding afternoon surrounded by beautiful structures and sculptures, plants and flowers, butterflies and insects, and sculptures.  

Let All the Children Play at Eisenhower Park
Field 4 Eisenhower Park
33 S. Service Road, #122, Jericho
516-569-0648

This 2-acre accessible park and playground is specially designed so children with disabilities and special needs can play alongside their siblings and friends without special needs. The equipment exceeds the guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act and is designed to help children develop gross and fine motor skills and cultivate balance and spatial perception. There are three play areas: one for toddlers, a 2- to 5-year-old section, and another for children ages 5-12. Swings have harnesses, slides have gradual slopes, and the seesaw has a backrest on one side to provide more stability. The paths are wide enough for a wheelchair, and the surface is springy throughout. Sand and water play areas can be accessed with a wheelchair. Parking and amenities are nearby, and there are benches all around for comfortable supervision.

Pump it Up Great Neck
225 Community Drive, Suite 250, Great Neck
516-466-7867

Pump It Up, a play space filled with giant inflatables, offers monthly Sensory Playtime sessions for kids on the autism spectrum. On select Tuesday nights, bring your child to bounce, jump, slide, and play sensory-friendly games in private arenas. Pump It Up can also accommodate support groups, play therapy sessions, and social events for individuals on the autism spectrum or those with other special needs, their family members and friends, and the professionals who work with them. Registration is required for these sessions. Cost is $14.95 per child. 

Safari Adventure
1074 Pulaski St., Riverhead 
631-727-4386

This amazing indoor play space has tons to do for kids with and without disabilities, including an 18-foot-tall soft playground, an inflatable obstacle course, an inflatable slide, arcade games, a hands-on sensory area, and a sensory calming spa. Kids can experience Open Play all day, every day beginning at $17 per child. Safari Adventure also offers group sessions for organizations and camps, as well as birthday parties and character appearance events. 

 

Inclusive Fun for Kids with Special Needs in Westchester, Rockland, and Bergen Counties


Inclusive Music, Theater, and Art in Westchester, Bergen, and Rockland

JCC of Mid-Westchester
999 Wilmot Road, Scarsdale
Charley Moskowitzc: 914-472-3300 x361 or
moskowitzc@jccmw.org.

JCC of Mid-Westchester offers a Sunday/Funday program that gives neurotypical kids and kids with special needs the opportunity to develop social skills together through art, technology, sports, and music. Group leaders, specialty instructors, and teen volunteers ensure each child receives individualized attention, and kids can try a free “trial” class to see if they like the program. This group is for kids in preschool through age 19. Sessions run from October-June and July-August.

Confident Kid Club 
901 Pelhamdale Ave., Pelham
Katharine Page: 646-522-7263
Carmella Crowley: 914-523-2328

For ages 3-10, Confident Kid Club offers integrated social skills groups that help kids develop confidence, grow personally and socially, and learn to take risks. Some activities kids can participate in include sensory activities, role playing, and music and movement. Groups are led by CKC’s Special Education Certified Facilitators Katharine Page and Carmella Crowley. 

Steffi Nossen School of Dance
216 N. Central Ave., White Plains
914-328-1900

This dance school offers a special Moving Wheels and Heels class for kids of all abilities, including those in wheelchairs, to learn dance technique in order to enhance creativity, increase strength and range of motion, and build self-esteem. Classes run for 12 weeks.

Zylophone
3020 Route 207, Campbell Hall, Orange County
845-476-8257

This studio offers performing and creative arts classes for kids of all abilities, and staff is dedicated to ensuring that each child is comfortable and ready to connect with others.

 

Inclusive Parks in Westchester, Bergen, and Rockland

Van Saun Park 
216 Forest Ave., Paramus and Continental Avenue, River Edge, NJ
This park offers activities that will please everyone in the family, including the Bergen County Zoological Park, The Washington Spring Garden, a train, carousel, playgrounds, and pony rides. The Harmony Playground is American Disabilities Act-accessible, and it includes a fun water sprinkler feature. 

Votee Park
Court Street, Palisade Avenue, Teaneck, NJ

The northern side of the park contains a wheelchair accessible play space, designed for children ages 2-12, and includes supportive swings, hanging bars, and slides, all set on a rubber surface. The park also has basketball and tennis courts, baseball and soccer fields, trails, other playgrounds and jungle jyms, and a pool for pool members. 

 

Inclusive Sensory Explorations in Westchester, Rockland, and Bergen

WeeZee
480 N. Bedford Road, Chappaqua
914-752-2100

This 18,000-square-foot indoor play center and gym for children ages 1-12 uses sensory integration techniques to help kids grow academically, socially, and physically. The center has games, activities, and fitness equipment that stimulate kids’ sense of touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing—and their sense of self. All children can benefit from time spent at WeeZee, especially those with sensory integration disorders.

 

Inclusive Museums in Westchester, Rockland, and Bergen

Westchester Children’s Museum
100 Playland Parkway, Rye
info@discoverWCM.org
914-421-5050 

All of the kid-friendly, exploratory exhibits at WCM are accessible for kids with special needs, and the museum will make any further accommodations necessary to ensure all kids are comfortable and having fun.

 

Inclusive Exercise in Westchester, Rockland, and Bergen

Aikido Westchester
305 Central Ave., Suite 2, White Plains
Martial Arts: Steve Kanney 914-648-0492 
Yoga: Kim Gold 914-648-0493

This martial arts and yoga center offers integrated classes for kids with and without special needs. Staff are dedicated to providing individualized, focused attention based on each student’s needs, while helping kids develop skills, build confidence, face challenges, and overcome obstacles.

Endeavor Therapeutic Horsemanship
1 Succabone Road, Mount Kisco
914-241-0211

This stable offers a sibling riding program in which children with special needs can show their siblings the horsemanship ropes! Siblings can participate in riding activities, ground horsemanship, the stable’s show team, and summer camps. Each summer camp is open to kids with and without special needs, and everyone gets to benefit from the physical, cognitive, social, and sensory benefits working with horses provides.

Playland
1 Playland Parkway, Rye
914-813-7010

At this amusement park, kids with and without special needs can both have fun on certain gentle rides such as the Sun & Moon, Jump n’ Bean, Flying Dragons, and Jolly Caterpillar. All special needs-accessible rides also allow a companion to ride with the child.

Bounce Valley Cottage 
612 Corporate Way, Valley Cottage
845-268-4000

Kids can jump on several trampoline courts, a slam dunk basketball area, and two indoor dodgeball courts. Younger kids can play on their own trampoline court and foam pit with more supervision. Each week Bounce offers Sensory Tuesday nights that are perfect for children with sensory challenges—sounds and lights are dimmed, and the trampolines are deliberately less crowded. 

BounceU
424 Market St., Nanuet 
845-623-5400

This bounce center offers a wide variety of programming, such as scavenger hunt bounce sessions, yoga bouncing, and special sensory bounce hours that are run by an occupational therapist on Mondays. There are several kinds of educational bounce sessions that include reading, crafting, and one session that aims to keep kids healthy and active. 

Tumble-Bee Gymnastics 
401 Market St., Nanuet
845-623-2553

This gymnastics facility offers open gyms in which children ages 4 and younger both with and without special needs can play on the equipment under the supervision of their parent or guardian. This includes playing on the bars, beam, trampoline, floor obstacles, and in the ball pit.

Inclusive Fun for Kids with Special Needs Further Outside the New York Area

Hersheypark
100 Hersheypark Dr., Hershey, PA
717-534-3900

Guests with special needs are encouraged to fill out the amusement park’s ride accessibility questionnaire, which provides specialized ride recommendations and qualifies them to avoid crowds by skipping the line and entering the ride from special entrances.
The park also offers several quiet locations throughout the complex to provide relief from sensory stimulation.

Sahara Sam's Oasis Indoor Water Park
856-767-7580

This indoor water park is open year-round, and offers four sensory-friendly evenings per year called Special Evenings at Sam’s, or SEAS. These events provide fun, judgement-free evenings for kids and adults with special needs and their family and friends. At just $15 per person, a limited amount of steeply discounted tickets are sold to reduce overcrowding and noise. Lights are also dimmed, arcade games are turned off, and a quiet room is available. Special SEAS birthday parties and packages can also be purchased.

Sesame Place
100 Sesame Road, Langhorne, PA
215-702-3566

Sesame Place was the first theme park in the United States to be officially designated by The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) as a Certified Autism Center (CAC). The theme park offers specialized services to guests with autism and other special needs, including trained staff, quiet rooms, noise cancelling headphones, low sensory areas and parades, dietary exceptions, and a ride accessibility program.

 

Also See:

Support Services, Resources, Health Care Providers, and Advocacy Services for Children with Special Needs in Manhattan

  

Author: Jacqui Neber is a graduate of The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. When she's not focused on taking her next steps in the world of journalism, you can find her petting someone else's dog. See More

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