Top Things to Do in NYC for Kids with Autism

I am a New York City mom of 13-year-old twins–one son, one daughter. My son has autism. Since we live in Manhattan, people always assume there is so much to do, so many options, and so many opportunities. They are right–if they are talking about my daughter: shows, restaurants, concerts, sporting events, tons of extracurricular activities. You name it, it is here for her. 

For my son, it is not the same. While there are a few places they can enjoy together, I have to work much harder to find options and opportunities for him. I need places without long lines or extremely loud noises, places he can truly enjoy himself and where people will understand him. I am on a perpetual mission to find these places for him. Here are some of my top picks for things to do in NYC with a child who has autism.


Atlas Foundation for Autism

The Atlas Foundation for Autism is a nonprofit organization that runs programs for kids on the autism spectrum. The wonderful ladies who run it are kind enough to open their facility four times per month, for free, to families with kids on the spectrum. The kids can play and the parents can chat, which makes it all-around great. My son lets out energy in the big gym with all the cool equipment while I get to share information and relax a bit with other parents. 


The Friendship Circle

The Friendship Circle is a wonderful program I feel lucky to have found. Twice a month, I drop my son off for two hours, and he is paired with a typical teenager with whom he just hangs out. They have snacks, play games, and participate in other activities together. All the typical kids who work there are volunteers, which I find amazing.   


Kicking the Spectrum

Kicking the Spectrum is a karate program geared toward kids with special needs. The classes take place in a dojo, and the kids wear the traditional karate uniform during class. The instructor is very patient; he knows exactly how to talk to the children, using the appropriate words and tone for kids with special needs. I am always proud of my son, and now he will have something that he can be particularly proud of himself for participating in.

RELATED: Find classes and fun programs for kids with special needs.

The Apple Store

I love to take my son to any Apple store. The stores have computers and iPads for him to play on, and the staff is always very nice and never rushes us out. 


Central Park Zoo

The Central Park Zoo is another favorite. It is the perfect size for a child such as mine. You can feed some animals or just watch others do so, and the sea lion show always holds my son’s attention. Bathrooms are easy to find, and there are plenty of benches around for breaks.


Barnes and Noble

Most of us walk past them all the time, but you may not realize how much there is to do in a Barnes and Noble. We love spending time there, especially on a rainy day. It is particularly great that kids do not need to be quiet like in a library. My son spends time looking through books and DVDs or putting on a show with the stuffed animals. If he needs to take a break we head to the store’s cafe for a snack and a drink.


Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

We recently discovered that we love to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. It is a great, free, physical activity to do. The bridge can get crowded, but there are benches along the way if anyone needs a break. Once you get to the other side, you can walk back, take a subway, or ride a ferry back across the river.


The East River Ferry

We recently took a ride on the East Side Ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and it was a big hit. The ride took about 40 minutes and was reasonably priced at $6.00 per person on a Sunday. My son boarded without hesitation, took a seat next to a window, put his headphones on, and enjoyed the trip. I would recommend checking the schedule in advance if long waits can be a problem for your child.


The East River Esplanade

Another great outdoor space we love is the East River Esplanade, which runs along Manhattan’s east side. There are a variety of entrances for easy access. It can be a very entertaining place for my son. He can watch helicopters take off and land or watch boats of all sizes go by. We often bring his scooter for him to ride. There are plenty of benches along the way, so I can bring a snack and we can rest if he needs a break.


These are some of my favorite things to do with my son. Having autism makes it a challenge to find things that he can handle and enjoy. I will continue to search for options and opportunities for him. He deserves to enjoy experiences while living in this city just as much as every other kid!

RELATED: Discover the best kids’ activities in NYC.

Photo above: Sea lions at the Central Park Zoo.