Sensory-friendly activities for kids year-round

1 in every 41 children has autism, officials say

By Tara Evans - Executive Producer

ORLANDO, Fla. - One in every 41 children has autism, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. For many of the children, and others, sensory sensitivity means that sometimes it is difficult for them to enjoy many of the attractions that the Orlando area has to offer. 

That's why several of the attractions now offer sensory-friendly days or experiences to be more inclusive to guests with special considerations. We've put together a list with the help of Visit Florida so you can find something your family can enjoy.

The Florida Aquarium

According to their website, The Florida Aquarium has teamed up with the Center For Autism & Related Disabilities at the University of South Florida to provide support and assistance to people with autism and related disabilities.

The Florida Aquarium also offers break areas (second-floor lobby and outside balconies) and ear plugs to help with noise management.

In addition, The Florida Aquarium recommends its hands-on opportunities (all except the Ocean Commotion) for autistic children.

They offer an online storyboard for their Shark Swim! experience, so kids understand what will happen and what to expect before they get there. You can see that here.

Lowry Park Zoo

The Zoo has established a partnership with the Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (CARD) at USF to improve our capacity to serve children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and related disabilities. As a result, the Zoo has been designated an “autism-friendly business.”

The Zoo has visual aids at the front gate (limited availability), which can be borrowed at the guest’s request for assistance. We are also happy to provide an Autism-friendly version of the Zoo map and additional sensory friendly materials.

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

According to information from Visit Florida, each autistic child reacts differently to animals and zoo environments. A couple of parents mentioned their children enjoyed Central Florida Zoo in Sanford because the animal attractions are close together. 

Dinosaur World

Dinosaur World has hands-on, tactile displays, such as fossil digs and playgrounds. It's a good spot for younger children, especially on weekday mornings when it's not too crowded. You can also find guides on their website so you can read with your child to prepare for your visit.

Brevard Zoo

The Brevard Zoo offers an Exceptional Nature Space. The Exceptional Nature Space is a modified natural habitat that is both safe and stimulating. It is designed to be flexible so that it can be easily reset and reprogrammed to best serve children with different challenges. The Zoo also offers periodic Sensory Nights-- for these, you need to book your tickets in advance on their website because there's a limited amount available to minimize crowds. They're free for members and $4/person for non-members and are typically from 5-7 p.m. on select nights.

Glazers Children's Museum

The Glazer Children’s Museum is partnered with the Center for Autism & Related Disabilities at the University of South Florida to provide support and optimize the museum experience for children with autism and their families. As a certified Autism Friendly business, it says it strives to create a unique and fun learning experience for all children to enjoy. They offer an online guide as well.

Sunshine Sunday is a special bi-monthly event for children with special needs and their caregivers. Come explore the Museum with lights and sounds turned down and sensory adapted tools, special programs, and community resources at your fingertips. It’s during this time that children and their families can experience the Museum and unite with others on a similar journey. Regular admission for this offering is $5.

Universal Studios

You can find accessibility information at the above link. They do offer special passes to assist families that include guests with special needs some special considerations in the parks. In our research, we found parents recommend you bring a doctor's note with your child's condition and requirements outlined in order to make your time at Guest Relations easier and faster. 

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World Resort offers a host of services to help Guests with cognitive disabilities—including those on the Autism Spectrum—maximize their Resort experience. Services include: strollers as wheelchairs, stroller/wheelchair rentals, rider switch, break areas, dietary accommodations, downloadable guides, attraction accessibility options. Click the link above to get the complete listing of information.

SeaWorld

SeaWorld offers a Ride Accessibility Program guests can enroll in at Guest Services, which will give them the ability to utilize Special Access. Special Access is designed to allow guests to enjoy attractions without waiting in line if the guest is not able to do so as a result of his/her disability. Guests will be placed in a Virtual Queue which equals the estimated wait time at that respective location. Guests have the ability to enjoy other attractions throughout the park during this time and then proceed to the specific attraction at the estimated time. They have an entire guide available to download here.

LEGOLAND

Specially equipped spaces in the theme park’s Annual Pass, First Aid and Baby Care facilities serve as designated “quiet rooms” where quests on the autism spectrum and their families can take a break. Noise-canceling headphones, weighted blankets, squishy toys and LEGO® building tables are some of the complimentary resources available. A similar space also is available within Guest Services at LEGOLAND Water Park.  The LEGOLAND Training & Development team has created “social stories” that offer an illustrated, step-by-step walkthrough of every theme park ride and show, so guests won’t be surprised by periods of darkness, loud noises, bright lights or other elements that often can be frightening or overwhelming. They’re available for review at Guest Services.

SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium & Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

These attractions recently offered their first sensory-friendly day which included admission before the attractions usually open with changes to lights and sounds to accommodate guests. Keep an eye on their websites for future sensory-friendly dates.

Chuck E Cheese

Chuck E. Cheese's says it is proud to support families who have children with autism and other special needs. They offer a sensory-friendly experience on the first Sunday of every month at participating locations, opening our stores two hours before their normal opening time. Some of what's included: Less crowding and a quieter restaurant environment, dimmed lighting, the show and music turned down or off entirely, limited appearances by Chuck E., ability to order off of full menu, access to play all games and rides, all ages and siblings welcome, no admission fees.

Orlando Repertory Theatre

The theater sometimes offers sensory friendly performances of their children's shows. For those shows, such accommodations can include: volunteers stationed in the lobby to assist families, adjustments to the show's lighting and sound effects, an available quiet room, a downloadable resource guide so families can get ready for the show experience. Specific show details and available performances can be found on their website.

If you know of other local attractions or activities that offer sensory-friendly activities, email tevans@wkmg.com so we can share that information with other families!

 

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