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Inclusive Activities and Events for Children with Special Needs in NYC

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.

Shows and Theater

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.

 

More than Reading at the Library

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.

 

Movement

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.

Extreme Kids & Crew
71 Sullivan St., Red Hook, Brooklyn
62-85 Forest Ave., Ridgewood, Queens
347-410-6050
[email protected]
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.

 

Museums

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.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Ave., Upper East Side, Manhattan
212-650-2010
[email protected]

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 [email protected]

New York Hall of Science
47-01 111th St., Corona, Queens
718-683-9365
[email protected]

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 [email protected]

Also See:

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