Having difficulty with big crowds, loud sounds, and transitioning to new places goes hand-in-hand with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As such, planning sensory-friendly family outings is a must for those in the special needs community.
In Houston, families with children on the Autism Spectrum have a generous selection of autism-friendly events and activities to do with their little ones. Below are some of the most autism-friendly businesses in the Greater Houston area.
Space Center Houston is a prominent science learning center and the official visitor center of NASA Johnson Space Center. In 2017, Space Center Houston debuted its Sensory Friendly Evening to better accommodate families in the special needs community. The center invites those with special needs to explore the facility in a reduced sensory environment, with special Pop-Up Science Labs manned by instructors trained to accommodate guests with sensory sensitivities.
The Hobby Center, a performing arts theater in downtown Houston, presents autism-friendly performances to accommodate guests with sensory issues. With shows like the Lion King and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes, families can enjoy the broadway classics with special adjustments to lights and sounds, a supportive audience environment, and designated quiet areas.
The Children’s Museum of Houston hosts Sensory Friendly Days throughout the year. Before guests arrive, museum staff members make sure to turn down lights and limit extra sounds and distracting motions. Guests can check out weighted lap pads, sunglasses for overstimulating lights, and ear defenders for overstimulating sounds. The museum also adds extra safety visuals and designated quiet rooms.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science has special Sensory Friendly Days, but also accommodates special needs guests on the daily with its sensory backpacks. The sensory backpacks can be checked out at Museum Services and include sunglasses, ear defenders, stuffed animals, and other tools to ease overstimulation.
We Rock the Spectrum Gym has several locations in downtown Houston, Katy, The Woodlands, Sugar Land and more. Tailored for children with special needs, We Rock the Spectrum gym includes suspended equipment with swings, a zip line, trampoline, climbing structures, fine motor arts and crafts areas, and sensory-based toys. We Rock the Spectrum’s mission is to create a place where kids of all development levels can grow and play together.
With three locations in Houston, AMC Theatres hosts multiple sensory friendly film showings per month. AMC teamed up with the Autism Society to put on these events. During sensory friendly films, the lights are turned up, the sound is turned down, and guests are welcome to get up, walk around, dance, or sing.
Main Street Theater in Houston hosts Sensory-Friendly performances, sign language interpretations, and special audio-assisted shows to make sure no child is left out. During the Sensory-Friendly performances, lighting and sound levels are set at more comfortable levels, tablets and smart phones may be used with headphones, fidget toys are welcome, and disability-trained staff provide any assistance as needed. Some of the Sensory-Friendly shows include A Charlie Brown Christmas, Holes, and Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
Back in August of 2016, Sky High Sports Trampoline Park in Houston debuted its “Special Needs Jump Time” for every Tuesday of the week. Founder of Sky High, Jerry Raymond, is father to a son on the Spectrum. He saw firsthand how jump sessions helped his son develop motor skills, balance, and social skills. Each Tuesday, Sky High Sports dims the lights and reduces distractions to give special needs guests a sensory-friendly experience.
Chuck E. Cheese has seven locations in Houston. To accommodate guests with autism and special sensory needs, Chuck E. Cheese designates the first Sunday of each month to families in the special needs community. During Sensory Sensitive Sundays, the venues are ensured to be less crowded with less noise, turned down music, and some visits from Chuck E. himself.
Spectrum Fusion is a non-profit organization in Houston that offers unique opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum to “contribute to society in a way that suits their personal and particular styles.” Spectrum Fusion is comprised of business experts, entrepreneurs, therapists and health care professionals who generate innovative solutions and possibilities for adults with autism to use their skills, interests, and strengths in career opportunities.
iFly, with two locations in Houston, has All Abilities Night, which is custom designed for those with developmental and physical challenges. Each flyer is assisted by specially trained Flight Instructors. Everyone in the special needs community is welcome to attend and partake in the sensational experience.
This April (which also happens to be Autism Awareness month!), George Ranch Historical Park will kick off its first-ever annual Sensory-Friendly Day. The all-day event will include quiet corners throughout the park, noise-cancelling headphones, colored glasses, and sensory kits. The sensory kits are equipped with weighted lap pads, stress balls, fidget spinners, lavender lotion, crayons, coloring books, and picture books.
The Houston Ballet offers Autism-Friendly performances which are modified for audience members with neurological differences. The events are staffed by trained volunteers who help ensure a smooth, positive experience for all.
The Special Olympics team of Greater Houston has tons of recreational activities for children on the spectrum to get involved in. From local track meets and flag football competitions to volleyball and bowling tournaments, there’s something for everyone. The full calendar of events can be seen here.
The John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science (the Health Museum for short) has a number of fascinating health and body exhibits for museum-goers to enjoy. On April 12th, the Health Museum will be hosting a lecture by Veronica Butler of the Music Therapy Center of Houston to demonstrate the positive uses of music therapy for those on the autism spectrum. Anyone can register for the event here.
The Little League Challenger Division invites all individuals ages 4 to 18 with physical and/or intellectual challenges to come play a game of baseball. Games typically run for about 1 or 2 innings (about an hour long) and are assisted by “Buddies.” Buddies are often peer athletes participating in Little League Baseball or Softball, and they help out with batting, base running, and defense only as needed.
Located in Cypress, Texas, All-Star Martial Arts teaches traditional TaeKwonDo and self-defense in a safe, family-friendly environment. The center prides itself in providing kids with important life lessons in addition to martial arts: self-confidence, discipline, concentration, and respect. All-Star Martial Arts offers a Samurai Program for individuals with a range of physical and developmental delays, including autism.
Sailing Angels is a non-profit organization based in the Greater Houston area that enables children with developmental and physical delays to experience the joys of sailing. Children learn knot-tying, navigation, and piloting throughout the excursion. The adventure concludes with the child steering the boat while wearing the Captain’s hat, and then earning a large medallion. The service is free and has a 100% safety record!
To check out some autism-friendly businesses in Austin, Texas, visit this page.