Summer Resources for Families with Autism

Summer is right around the corner and families are starting to plan for vacations and warm weather fun. With some planning and preparation, families touched by autism can enjoy summer activities too. We have included some suggestions below about Activities, Amusement Parks, Camps, Entertainment, Sporting Groups, Travel and Airlines and some additional resources at the end.

ACTIVITIES

  • Pump It Up This national franchise offers indoor “sensory entertainment programs for children with autism.”  Some Pump It Up locations offer sensory jumps once a month. Modifications are made depending on the needs of those in attendance but typically music will be turned off as will some of the equipment if the inflatable blowers are too loud. Find a location near you here.
  • Sky-Zone: The indoor trampoline park has over 100 franchises across the US and Canada and many offer a monthly “Sensory Friendly Jump Session,” in which the music is turned off and families are allowed to jump for half the price of regular admission. Call your local franchise to see if a parent or guardian may participate for free with each paying jumper. See if there’s a center near you here.
  • Outdoors for All: The Outdoors for All Foundation enriches the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families by making adaptive and therapeutic outdoor recreation available to children and adults with disabilities. Over 700 trained volunteers assist more than 2,400 individuals each year. Their programs include cycling, hiking, yoga, kayaking, day camps, rock-climbing and camping as well as wintertime activities such as snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross country and downhill skiing.

AMUSEMENT PARKS

  • Adventureland: This Long Island favorite offers guests with special needs ½ price on Pay-One-Price (POP) bands every day during their regular season (which comes to $16.50). One adult/companion that will be accompanying that guest on rides can also receive ½ price on their POP band. Inform the cashier at the window that a special needs band is requested and you will be charged accordingly. Guests with special needs can also get a Guest Pass to ease the wait times on lines. This pass is available in the City Hall Building, located next to the Bumper Cars. It is free of charge, but users will have to leave a license in City Hall while they are using it.
  • Disney: There are Disney locations all around the world and catering to special needs guests is important to all of them. While amusement parks have crowds, loud noises and much activity, Disney manages to personalize service for those with special needs. They provide assistance for those with cognitive, visual, hearing and mobility disabilities, plus light sensitivity, and also provides help for those in wheelchairs. Their new Disability Access Service Card (DAS) allows guests with disabilities at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort to receive a return time for attractions to minimize or potentially alleviate waiting in line altogether. Disney hotels cater to special needs families, as well.
  • Sesame Place: This popular Pennsylvania theme park, filled with rides, attractions and beloved Sesame Street characters, is the first amusement park to be designated a Certified Autism Center. The entire staff has undergone autism sensitivity and awareness training which focuses on “sensory awareness, environment, communication, motor and social skills, program development, and emotional awareness” and must be retaken every two years. Check in at Guest Services when you arrive to get a Fast Pass arm band for paying for purchases or a Handicapped Access arm band if you need it.
  • Six Flags: New Jersey’s Six Flags’ Attraction Access Program is designed to accommodate guests with disabilities or certain other impairments so they may fully enjoy Six Flags’ parks. The pass is helpful for guests who are unable to wait in ride lines due to a disability, mobility impairments, or certain qualifying impairments. You will need to provide a doctor’s note at Guest Services to pick up the pass. Each attraction at Six Flags has been evaluated for the safety of their special needs guests and they strive to make the park fun and accessible for everyone.

CAMPS

If summer camp is an option for your child, Autism Speaks offers a list of camps across the United States. Select an area by zip code and it will produce a list of camps within your desired radius. Click here for the camp finder tool.

ENTERTAINMENT

  • Theatre Access NYC provides assistance to theatergoers with disabilities. Those who are on the autism spectrum or have other developmental, physical or cognitive disabilities now have one location to find out everything they need to know to choose a show, buy tickets and plan a trip to Broadway. Theater Access NY is brought to you by TDF (Theatre Development Fund) and The Broadway League.
  • Theatre Development Fund TDF in New York creates an autism-friendly live theatre setting for children and families. Sound levels are adjusted to a less jarring level and strobe lights are not focused directly into the audience. There are staffed quiet and play areas in the lobby, if anyone needs to leave the theatre during the performance. For these special performances, TDF purchases every seat in the theatre and makes tickets available exclusively to families, groups, schools, etc. whose members include individuals on the autism spectrum at discount prices.
  • AMC Theaters is offering sensory-friendly movie nights on the second and fourth Tuesday and Saturday of every month at participating theaters. On these nights theaters turn up the lights, turn down the volume, get rid of previews, and invite viewers to dance, sing, shout, and move around as needed.
  • Chuck E. Cheese is now offering “Sensory Sensitive Sundays” (at participating locations) when locations will open two hours early on the first Sunday of every month, specifically for children with autism and other special needs. During these times they will offer reduced lighting and noise, food and games, and trained and caring staff. A full list of participating locations can be found on the company’s website.

SPORTING GROUPS

  • Major League Baseball Some MLB teams offer sensory friendly evenings (often on Autism Awareness Night). Accommodations include sections of the ballpark where speaker volume is lowered, quiet rooms are made available, activities are provided and tickets are given away to individuals with autism.
  • Sensory Rooms at certain NBA, NHL and NFL stadiums. According to CNN, “The NBA is partnering with nonprofit KultureCity to make 19 arenas “sensory-inclusive” by the start of the 2018-19 season this fall.” The NFL and NHL are also getting in on the action. Sensory spaces will be added to United Stadium, home of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks, the Staples Center where the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers play, and the American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat. Sensory rooms already exist at the Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden I Center, home of the Sacramento Kings, Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Salt Lake City’s Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz.
  • Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program With chapters in Connecticut, Long Island, Minnesota and New York City, Rolling Thunder is an inclusive running club for all athletes, dedicated to providing challenged individuals with the opportunity to successfully take part in all levels of running, walking, or wheelchair racing.

TRAVEL

  • Beaches Resorts As a sponsor of Sesame Street, Beaches Resorts in the Caribbean provides a positive vacation experience for all children, including families with special needs, by creating unique activities and events, as well as providing trained and certified staff.
  • Smuggler’s Notch ResortSmuggs Notch in Vermontofferstherapeutic recreation for children and adults of all abilities in a supportive environment.Experiences are tailored to meet the needs and goals of each individual and the ratio of counselor to program guest is based on the individual needs of each person. The summer program offers a variety of adventure activities such as Arts & Crafts, Disc Golf, Guided Hiking, Kayaking, Mini Golf, Nature Time, Sing-Alongs, Swimming and Watersliding.
  • Surfside Beach This beachfront community located near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina officially became the first autism-friendly travel destination in the world in January 2016. The town aims to become a year-round destination for those families who love the beach but can’t visit destinations with loud or over-stimulating boardwalks and crowded beaches. Surfside Beach aims to eventually be an entirely judgement-free zone in which local businesses host events specifically designed for kids with autism.
  • Autism-Friendly Hotel Accomodations Some hotel chains offer “autism friendly” accommodations, such as Wyndham Garden Austin, Ramada by Wyndham Tampa Airport Westshore, and The Clinton Inn in Tenafly, NJ, so be sure to ask at your destination if there are ways they can accommodate your family’s special needs.
  • Airlines
  •           Jet Blue has partnered with several autism organizations to develop programs, such as Blue Horizons with Autism Speaks and Wings for Autism with ARC, which help introduce kids with autism to flying. During the events families with autism come to the airport, go through the security process and check their luggage to board a Jet Blue aircraft. The staff welcomes everyone on board and then proceeds to explain the routine. After a short stay onboard that includes snacks, the families deplane. Parents flying with Jet Blue should notify the airline of their child’s diagnosis and request bulkhead seating when possible. The airline can provide disability seating and pre-boarding before the other passengers board the aircraft.
  •           American Airlines provides pre-boarding for passengers with autism and their families. The American Airlines website gives instructions on how to contact customer service representatives about traveling with a disability. The airline reserves priority seating for passengers with disabilities and their families in advance. If you would like to take advantage of priority seating, let the airline personnel know when you make the reservation. The airline will do its best to make last-minute accommodations, but the more notice you give, the more likely they will be able to help. They recommend also letting a flight agent know about any special needs when you arrive at the airport.
  •          Delta offers pre-boarding for passengers with autism and their families. They offer a phone number (Disability Assistance (1-404-209-3434) for Disability Assistance and recommend you call and let them know about any special needs when you first make your flight reservation. Airline personnel will let the gate personnel know in advance that a person with autism will be onboard the flight. Let the flight crew know about any special needs when you board the plane. Delta assigns seating in advance, but you will be able to ask a flight attendant if you can move seats mid-flight. They cannot guarantee anything, but they will do their best to reseat you. They also recommended that families traveling with an individual with autism allow one additional hour at the airport before departure time.

Additional Resources

 

(published June 2018)