We know how challenging it can be to accommodate your little one with special needs in the large crowds of museums or the loud sounds of a theater. Luckily, there are plenty of programs catered specifically to kids with special needs so that your kiddos can join in on all of the excitement that NYC has to offer.
Thinking about sending your kids off to camp this summer, read about The Five Benefits of Summer Camp for Your Child With Special Needs.
Sensory Room at Brooklyn Children’s Museum – Crown Heights North Historic District
145 Brooklyn Ave.
The Sensory Room is a permanent exhibit where kids of all abilities can play and explore their senses. A Museum Educator facilitates a program during part of the session, while the remaining time is for your little ones to make their way through the exciting room on their own! The room was created by an advisory committee with experience serving children with autism spectrum disorders. The space is designed to be a welcoming and inclusive environment for all kiddos. Just be sure to let the Museum Educator know your child’s particular needs or sensitivities. Sessions are offered every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2-2:30 pm, 2:45-3:15 pm, 3:30-4 pm, and 4:15-4:45 pm. Space is limited to 10 kids and their caregivers.
Access Programs at New York Transit Museum – Downtown Brooklyn
99 Schermerhorn St.
Is your little one interested in trains? Then Subway Sleuths will be right up their alley. Second to fifth-grade students on the autism spectrum are welcome to explore the decommissioned subway station, solve transit mysteries, and develop social skills as they interact with their peers. Each class is facilitated by a special education teacher, a speech-language pathologist, and a Transit Museum educator. This after-school program requires an application. If you’re looking for less of a commitment, Special Day for Kids is a fun outing for kids with disabilities and their families. Explore the museum, visit the quiet room, and participate in a variety of activities. The next Special Day for Kids is coming up in March 2020. Be sure to check out the other programs offered for kids and teens with disabilities at the Transit Museum!
Special Aces Junior Development Prospect Park Tennis Alliance – Prospect Park
Prospect Park Tennis Center, 50 Parkside Ave.
Sign up for Special Aces group tennis instruction for kids with special needs to introduce your little ones to the sport. Tennis professionals and qualified physical and occupational therapists teach tennis fundamentals in a fun way for players ages 6 to 18, grouped by age and ability. Sports wheelchairs are available, but limited, so register early. The upcoming third session begins on March 1 and ends April 26. Classes are on Sundays.
Inclusive Services at Brooklyn Public Library – Multiple Locations
Brooklyn Public Library offers a variety of programs that foster an inclusive environment for kids with and without disabilities. These programs are meant to welcome all kids, accommodating for little ones with special needs. Read and Play for kids up to age 5 and their families is an educational playtime in which kids learn social skills and language development through books and toys. Family LEGO Club invites children of all ages to build, explore, and engage in creative LEGO challenges. We also love Teen Time for All, which is an accessible space for your bigger kids to design, create, and meet new friends. Stay up to date with the Brooklyn Public Library calendar to find specific dates for these programs.
Inclusive Weekend Programs at Children’s Museum of the Arts – Hudson Square
103 Charlton St.
Kids with disabilities and their families are welcome to take part in structured weekend programs that focus on social skills, manual dexterity, and fine and media arts. Inclusive Saturdays: Workshops for Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are led by Museum Teaching Artists. These free sessions build community for families affected by autism and encourage expression through art. Inclusive Sundays: Workshops for Children with Physical Disabilities are led by Teaching Artists and Evaluators licensed in Occupational Therapy. All activities are modeled and adjusted to fit the individual needs of every child. Saturdays 9:30-10:45 am, Sundays 12:30-2:30 pm, register in advance.
Access Family Programs at The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – Hell’s Kitchen
Pier 86, West 46th St.
Pop into The Intrepid’s monthly programs for kids ages 5 to 17 with learning and developmental disabilities. Take an interactive tour of the Museum and participate in arts and crafts. Each month focuses on a different theme. February’s theme is Living Pictures on February 2. Explore important moments on board the Intrepid through ship tours, movement activities, and hands-on art. February’s program also offers a session for teens and adults ages 15 and up, which is only offered six times a year. Access Family Programs are on select Sundays, 11 am-1 pm for kids and 2-4 pm for teens and adults when offered.
Create Ability at the Museum of Modern Art – Midtown
11 West 53rd St.
Bring your little ones with learning and developmental disabilities to the Museum for a Create Ability program. Taking place once a month, families explore a different theme each time, observing artwork in the galleries and creating their own art in the classroom. Create Ability’s February theme on February 9 is Line, Shape and Form. The workshop is for kids ages 5 to 17 at 11 am.
Theater Development Fund (TDF) Autism-Friendly Performances – Midtown
Various theaters: Wicked at Gershwin Theater, 222 West 51st St., and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at Lyric Theater, 214 West 43rd St.
Catch a Broadway show with your family in a supportive environment for your kiddos who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensitivity issues. Since 2011, TDF has presented more than 15 autism-friendly shows on Broadway. Working closely with professionals in the field and consultants on the autism spectrum, TDF strives to make each show accessible and enjoyable for everyone. The upcoming shows are Wicked on February 2, 1 pm, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on March 1, Part One 1 pm and Part Two 6:30 pm, and Aladdin on May 3, 1 pm.
The Discovery Squad at the American Museum of Natural History – Upper West Side
200 Central Park West
This iconic Museum offers special tours designed for families affected by autism spectrum disorders. The program was developed in collaboration with the Seaver Autism Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Discovery Squad tours take place before the Museum is open to the public, so you get the whole museum to yourselves! Tours are free, but you must register in advance. Upcoming tours are on February 8 and March 14.
New Victory Theater Sensory-Friendly Shows – Midtown
209 West 42nd St.
Sensory-Friendly performances at New Victory Theater adapt the light and sound to accommodate sensitivities, and Autism specialists are on hand to provide assistance if needed. These shows are perfect for families affected by autism to experience the theater in a welcoming environment. The upcoming Sensory-Friendly show is Riddle of the Trilobites on February 9, 12 pm, $25 tickets. This original musical, for ages 6 and up, takes the audience on an underwater adventure with puppetry and live music. Mark your calendars for Snow White: Sensory-Friendly on April 26.
Relaxed Performances at the Lincoln Center – Lincoln Square
Clark Studio Theater, 165 West 65th St., 7th Floor
Get the ultimate theater experience with Relaxed Performances. There are no noise or movement restrictions, so your little ones are free to get up and dance or sing. You can leave and re-enter the theater, and adjustments are made to reduce sensory stimuli. Upcoming performances include SUDS by Bluelaces Theater Company on February 1-9 and Songs from Open Windows by Dan + Claudia Zanes with Yuriana Sobrino on February 15 and 16. Both have viewings at 11 am and 2 pm and are recommended for ages 5 to 8. MuMu Fresh: An Acoustic Experience by Maimouna Youssef takes the stage on February 22, ages 5 to 11.
Access Family Workshops at the Jewish Museum – Carnegie Hill
1109 5th Ave. at 92nd Street
Geared towards families affected by learning and developmental disabilities, bring your kids for an art-filled afternoon. Examine art and then create a work of art to bring home. Learn about artwork in the galleries and get crafty with your art project. The Access Family Workshops rotate the exhibition that’s used as inspiration for your art. The Museum also has programs and tours for kids who are deaf or blind, making the experience accessible to all.
Matthew P. Sapolin Playground – Lincoln Square
West 70th Street
While it’s still cold outside, playgrounds are a year-round source of fun for kids. Matthew P. Sapolin Playground honors the former Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. The playground is built for children of all abilities. There’s a kid’s garden with accessible bridges, musical instruments built into the play space, and basketball courts with adjustable backstops that can be lowered for kids in wheelchairs.
ArtAccess Family Programs at Queens Museum – Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Queens Museum welcomes families with kids with special needs through family-friendly ArtAccess Autism Initiatives. ArtAccess therapists lead families through observing and making art together. Kids are encouraged to socialize and play with each other to create connections to artwork and build literacy. Another resource we love is Room to Grow: A Guide to Arts Programming in Community Spaces for Families Affected by Autism, published by Queens Museum. This guide details recommendations to community spaces, libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions for developing programs for families affected by autism so that your family can have access to even more individualized experiences for enrichment and fun! Third Sunday of each month, 1:30-4:30 pm.
Sensory Storytime and Special Needs Reading Group at Queens Library – Woodhaven and Kew Garden Hills
Woodhaven Library, 85-41 Forest Pkwy. (Sensory Storytime)
Kew Gardens Hills Library, 72-33 Vleigh Place (Reading Group)
Little ones ages 2 to 3 are invited to Sensory Storytime, where they’ll partake in creative movement, stories, sensory activities, and finger rhymes. Preregistration in the children’s room is required and there is limited space. Another fun option is the Special Needs Reading Group, where you’ll get to read books that help with sensory development. A librarian will read to special needs kids who have limited verbal abilities. Upcoming Sensory Storytime is on February 13, 6-6:45 pm.
Launch Trampoline Park – Howard Beach
163-50 Crossbay Boulevard
Every kid needs to release some of their seemingly endless energy, and a trampoline park is the perfect place to do so. Launch Trampoline Park has trampoline courts, dodgeball, basketball, knockout, Launch Pad to practice tricks, Tumble Traks (extra long trampolines), ninja courses, foam pits, virtual reality games, an arcade, and much more. V.I.P Time is open specifically for guests with special needs and their families on the last Tuesday of every month, 4-8 pm, $20. Launch wants to be a safe space for jumpers with special needs, so V.I.P. time is a quieter, calmer, more private environment to accommodate everyone. One parent or guardian also gets to jump for free.
Quiet Zones at the Bronx Zoo – Bronx Park
2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460
Get ready for an educational and action-packed animal adventure at the Bronx Zoo. While the crowds can be overwhelming, Bronx Zoo aims to make the zoo accessible for kids with sensory processing needs. If you need a place to regroup away from the activity of the zoo, there are Quiet and Calm Zones in the Rhino Garden, Zebra Hill, and the area adjacent to Bears. You can also check out a Sensory Bag for no cost with an ID, which contains fidget tools, headphones, and other resources to make sure that your whole family has an enjoyable experience.
Swim Academy for Special Needs at the Bronx House – Pelham Parkway
990 Pelham Parkway South, Bronx, NY 10461
Learn to swim at the Bronx House! Specially-trained instructors work one-on-one with your little one to foster a love for swimming and build their confidence. Join an inclusive and nurturing environment at the Bronx House through this program that stresses water safety and is tailored to your child’s likes and dislikes, keeping in mind their special needs. Special Needs Swim takes place on Fridays, 3-7 pm.
All Around the City
Sensory Sensitive Sundays at Chuck E. Cheese – Citywide
Multiple locations in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx
One the first Sunday of every month, head to Chuck E. Cheese two hours before it opens for a fun experience catered towards families who have children with autism and other special needs. Chuck E. Cheese wants all kids to be a kid, so they partnered with the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in 2016 to develop the program. There’s less crowding, dimmed lighting, music turned down or off entirely, limited Chuck E. appearances, and no admission fees! Order off the full-menu and play arcade games with adjusted sound effects.
AMC Sensory Friendly Films – Citywide
Participating AMC Theaters: Bay Plaza Cinema 13, DINE-IN Levittown 10, Magic Johnson Harlem 9, Shore 8, Stony Brook 17
AMC Partners with the Autism Society to produce Sensory Friendly Films for families impacted by autism. The lights are up, sound is down, and your little ones can get up, dance, walk, shout, or sing! Current sensory-friendly films include Frozen II and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The family-friendly showings are on the second and fourth Saturday of every month. Check one of the NYC AMC theaters above for specific showtimes.
Karma Kids Special Needs Yoga – Citywide
Experienced and trained teachers support each child’s unique physical, mental, and emotional development through yoga poses and games at Special Needs Yoga. Your little ones will practice breathing exercises and interact with other kids in a safe and welcoming environment. Each class ends with relaxation time and foot rubs! Class size is limited to eight kids and is 30 minutes long. Be sure to check the Karma Kids schedule, which is subject to change.