Top 25 Autism-Friendly Holiday Events in Central Texas in 2018

There are plenty of autism-friendly businesses and events in Central Texas for families in the special needs community. Action Behavior Centers’ team has compiled a list of the top 25 organizations and events to enjoy this holiday season, all of which accommodate children of all developmental levels and provide fun for the entire family.

Organizations

As awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) continues to increase, more and more businesses are accommodating the special needs community with sensory-friendly events and environments. For longtime residents of the Central Texas area, new residents, or visitors, below are a list of companies that go above and beyond to welcome children of all abilities.

Movie Outings

Some children on the Autism Spectrum may find traditional movie theater environments to be challenging due to the loud noises, lighting, and crowds. These theaters offer a flexible viewing environment so that children with special needs are as comfortable as possible. Families can head out to enjoy the holiday classics and new movie releases in a fun, safe space. 

AMC offers a family-friendly sensory film program every second and fourth Saturday of each month. Enjoy a movie the whole family will love with the lights turned up and the volume turned down, as well as the freedom to move around and sing along.

The Alamo Drafthouse always encourages guests to avoid showing up late and using personal devices during a film. However, the theater designated special times for movie goers in need of a sensory-friendly environment. “Alamo for All” events are offered at all Austin locations, where the lights are turned up and the sound is lowered. Children are free to talk and move around as much as they need and are able to use all necessary adaptive technology. Alamo for All is offered every Tuesday before 2pm.

Museums & Exhibits

Museums and exhibits are a great way for children with autism to interact with peers, experience new things, and learn.

The Thinkery Children’s Museum hosts sensory-friendly hours with an interactive experience catered to those with ASD. The Thinkery understands that large crowds and an abundance of stimuli can be overwhelming, so there are limited ticket sales for the sensory-friendly events to reduce crowds and overstimulation. The Thinkery Children’s Museum works hard to ensure every child feels at home when they enter their doors. In fact, the museum has even created its very own Sensory Friendly Pre-Visit Guide.

For children that learn best with hands-on experiences and limited crowds, the Austin Aquarium is a great place to encounter wildlife up close.  The staff at the Austin Aquarium strives to make every visit worthwhile, which is why they encourage those of all abilities to interact with and ask questions about the animals. The aquarium not only houses aquatic life, but also other animals like birds and snakes.

Places to Play

Mt. Playmore gives children and families of all abilities the opportunity to experience the largest indoor playscape in Central Texas! With less stimuli and music from the arcade area turned completely off, children with sensory sensitivities can enjoy the playscape without getting overstimulated. Quiet hours are offered on the third Saturday of every month from 9 am – 10 am.

On the first Saturday of each month, Jump Street opens its doors an hour and a half early for children and families with special needs. This sensory-friendly time is open to all ages, and parents are welcome to participate as well. The fun doesn’t have to stop there – families are welcome to stay after special hours when the doors officially open to the public at 10am. Cost ranges from $4 – $8 depending on the child’s age.

We Rock the Spectrum’s indoor playground caters specifically to individuals with autism but is inclusive to children of all abilities. The playground includes a fine motor arts and crafts area, as well as sensory-based toys and a variety of suspended swings. We Rock the Spectrum is committed to providing a safe, enjoyable environment for all kids.

Music and Visual Arts

Zach Theatre hosts certain shows that cater specifically to those with autism. The theatre accommodates a special needs audience by adjusting the lighting and sound, as well as providing spaced seating to ensure families have enough personal space to enjoy the show.  During the shows, Zach Theatre allows guests to move around freely, take breaks, and talk if needed. Prior to the show, Zach Theatre provides families with detailed information outlining what to expect upon arrival.

Joshua’s Stage, a performance center, supports children with a wide range of special needs, ages 3 to 18 years old. Joshua’s Stage works hard to foster creativity by providing a variety of classes, workshops, camps, performances, and theater arts exhibits. The center also teaches dance, digital photography, and even film making.

Buda Library has partnered with My Munchkin Music to offer free music classes for families who have children with autism, ages 5 and under. The class is designed to develop communication skills between children and their families, as well as spontaneous peer interaction. My Munchkin Music class also works on developing fine and gross motor skills through play with music. Classes are held on the first Saturday of each month.

Places to Stay

At the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Austin, there are special hotel rooms designed specifically for families who have children with autism. Families can feel extra safe knowing that the hotel’s ‘Thoughtful Rooms’ are free of toxins and chemical cleaners. Each room is also stocked full of games, special snacks, and safety features, like door alarms that will sound if the door is being opened. When making arrangements through the hotel, families will be sent a story book of what the hotel looks like and what to expect upon arrival.

Top 14 Fun Holiday Events in 2018 in Central Texas 

Little Maker Workshop

When: Every Wednesday and Saturday, starting November 21, from 11:00am-11:30am

Where: The DoSeum

2800 Broadway

San Antonio, Texas 78209

Drop in at the DoSeum and enjoy the museum’s Little Maker Workshop. The workshop includes tinkering with stimuli as well as giving children the space they need to be as creative or process oriented as they need. This is a time for kids of all abilities to explore their creative sides.

Santa’s Ranch

When: November 2nd – December 30th

Where: New Braunfels, TX

Just south of Austin on I-35 in New Braunfels, experience over 1 million lights and 100 animations at Santa’s Ranch, a drive-through light show. This event is perfect for kids on the Spectrum who enjoy viewing colorful lights from the familiarity of their family’s own car.

Turkey Camp

When: November 19-21 (Monday-Wednesday), 9:00am-12:00pm

Where: We Rock the Spectrum

Turkey Camp is a fun, sensory-friendly, event with Thanksgiving themed crafts. We Rock the Spectrum will provide snacks, games, and social skills activities for children ages 3-12. Pre-registration is required and has sold out in the past, so sign up quickly!

Ice Skating

When: November 24th – January 15th

Where: Whole Foods on South Lamar

Enjoy ice-skating on top of the original Whole Foods near downtown Austin. The rink is small and easy to manage with little ones. Soft lights line the rink with holiday music provided by a local radio station. This easy-to-navigate space is ideal for families looking for an outing without the risk of overly large crowds or overwhelming environments. The rink will be open daily this winter season, beginning November 24th through January 15th.

Christmas at the Mayborn Museum Complex

When: Thursday November 29, 4:30pm -7:30pm

Where: Mayborn Museum Complex Center – Waco, TX

Come enjoy holiday festivities at the Mayborn on Baylor University Campus. Kids will be able to view a fun train display presented by the Central Texas Area Model Railroaders. Children will also have the opportunity to participate in tinkering with a Makey Makey Christmas tree and holiday themed circuit blocks.

Santa in the Garden

When: Saturday December 1st, 10:00am – 2:00pm

Where: Zilker Botanical Garden

Skip the long, loud lines at the mall and come meet Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Zilker Botanical Gardens. Kids and families can enjoy the relaxed atmosphere while also taking in the beauty of the gardens at Zilker.

Sensitive Santa

When: December 2, 9:00am-11:00am

Where: Rolling Oaks Mall

6909 N Loop 1604 East, San Antonio, TX, 78247

Rolling Oaks Mall in San Antonio offers an annual sensitive Santa experience for children with Autism. It’s a great opportunity for children and families to experience a Santa meet and greet without the added chaos of crowds. There will also be sensory activities provided for extra entertainment.

Caring Santa

When: Sunday December 2nd

Where: Barton Creek Square & Lakeline Mall

A typical ‘meet and greet’ with Santa at the mall might be overwhelming or overstimulating for children with ASD. Instead, families in the special needs community can enjoy The Caring Santa on December 2nd. This event is free with a private photo experience secluded from the main crowds, so the experience remains relatively quiet and lowkey.

Magik Theatre

When: December 8, 10:30am

Where: 420 South Alamo, San Antonio, TX, 78205

The Magik Theatre will offer a sensory friendly performance of Mr. Popper’s Penguins for guests with ASD and other cognitive disabilities. The theater lights will turn the lights up and the sound volume down so children with sensory sensitivities can enjoy the show.  Families are free to walk around during the performance as well. Admission is $10.

Special Needs Christmas Party

When: Saturday December 8th, 3:00pm-5:00pm

Where: YMCA 6800 Harvey Dr. – Waco, TX

Hosted by Mothers of Autistic Children, the YMCA will be providing a free Christmas party for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other special needs. There will be peer play and games to work on social interactions, as well as food, drinks, and crafts. Santa will also be there there for a meet and greet opportunity!

Casey’s Christmas: Special Needs Holiday Party

When: Saturday December 8th, 2:00pm – 4:00pm

Where: Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas

4900 Mueller Boulevard Austin, TX 78723

Come to Casey’s Christmas holiday party on December 8th and enjoy a fun afternoon with a sensory story time, santa meet and greet, crafts, and much more. Casey’s Circle organization is looking to improve the quality of life for medically complex children by providing social events for children of all abilities that is fun for the entire family.

A Special Starry Night

When: Saturday December 8, 6:00pm-9:00pm

Where: South Waco Recreation Center

The Waco Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities and the Heart of Texas Autism Network will be hosting an event for children of all abilities. Families can expect dancing, music, and social groups. This event is free, but it’s encouraged to bring a canned good as a donation.

Austin Trail of Lights

When: December 10th – 23rd

Where: Zilker Park – Austin, TX

Visit the Trail of Lights and take a spin under the Zilker Tree! The Austin Trail of Lights offers an interactive area for kids, photo opportunities, a visit with Santa, delicious food, and more. With long and wide trails that spread out the people and noise, it is an ideal seasonal event for children on the spectrum who enjoy colorful lights and holiday music.

Little Texans at the Bullock Texas State History Museum

When: December 13, 2018 10:00am-11:00am

Where: Bullock Texas State History Museum – Austin, TX

Enjoy an interactive experience for young children ages two to five at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Children are invited to enjoy the museum’s hands-on program that incorporates play and tactile learning. The program is free for members and standard exhibit admission for non-members.

Autism-Friendly Holiday Event Calendars for 2018: 

 

For the Top 18 Autism-Friendly Organizations in Houston, view our article here.

18 Autism-Friendly Things to Do in Houston

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.

  1. Space Center Houston

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.

  1. The Hobby Center

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.

  1. Children’s Museum of Houston

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.

  1. Houston Museum of Natural Science

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.

  1. We Rock the Spectrum

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.

  1. AMC Theatres

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.

  1. Main Street Theater

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.

  1. Sky High Sports

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.

  1. Chuck E. Cheese

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.

  1. Spectrum Fusion

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.

  1. iFly

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.

  1. George Ranch Historical Park

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.

  1. Houston Ballet

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.

  1. Houston Special Olympics

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.

  1. The Health Museum of Houston

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.

  1. Little League Challenger Division

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.

  1. All-Star Martial Arts

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.

  1. Sailing Angels

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.

8 Autism-Friendly Things To Do in Austin

As many families in the special needs community know, it can be challenging to find public places and activities that cater to the needs of a child with autism.

Fortunately, Austin and its surrounding areas have a number of autism-friendly places for family outings.

  1. Thinkery Children’s Museum

The Thinkery Museum for children in Austin offers a number of stimulating and educational exhibits, including the Kitchen Lab, the Lights Lab, the Space 8 technology lab, and a custom-designed outdoors climber for kids to adventure though. The Thinkery hosts special ‘Sensory Friendly’ hours at the museum in which children with autism are invited to enjoy modified museum exhibits with less stimuli than usual. Therapists and siblings are also welcome to join.

  1. Morgan’s Wonderland

Morgan’s Wonderland, just south of Austin in San Antonio, is an amusement park designed to include individuals with special needs. The park is completely wheelchair-accessible and all individuals with special needs are admitted free of charge, no questions asked. “We want Morgan’s Wonderland to be a place where the common element of play creates an atmosphere of inclusion for those with and without disabilities, encouraging everyone to gain a greater understanding of one another,” the website states.

  1. Morgan’s Inspiration Island 

Building a new addition to the theme park, Morgan’s Wonderland had its grand opening in the spring of 2017 for Morgan’s Inspiration Island – the world’s first disability-friendly water park. The park features five play areas with pools, jets, and water cannons, as well as a jungle-themed riverboat ride. One area is equipped with technology to condition the water to warmer temperatures for guests who are sensitive to cold, and the park also has specially-designed waterproof wheelchairs available.

  1. Wyndham Garden Hotel

The Wyndham Garden Hotel in Austin is one of the few hotels in the world with autism-friendly accommodations for guests with autism. The hotel installed autism-friendly rooms with heightened safety features like door alarms, covers on all power outlets, drawers with safety locks, and cushions on the corners of all tables. Each room has a set of soft toys and books for children to enjoy as well. Staff members partake in autism-aware sensitivity training to make sure that families with autistic children receive the highest quality of service possible.

  1. JumpStreet

JumpStreet, an indoor trampoline park located in Cedar Park, hosts a special needs hour on the first Saturday of every month. The park features a large foam pit, maze, bounce houses, tube slide, trampoline areas, and bull riding.

  1. Sensory Friendly Movies

Various movie theaters in Austin, including the Alamo Drafthouse, the Regal Lakeline Cinema, and AMC Theaters, offer sensory-sensitive movie showings. In these movie screenings, the sound is turned down lower than usual and lights left on a bit brighter to accommodate individuals with sensory sensitivities. The screenings are more relaxed than usual movie showings, with guests being allowed to talk and move around the theater as needed.

  1. Chuck E. Cheese’s

On the first Sunday of every month, Chuck E. Cheese’s now hosts a sensory-friendly experience for children with autism and other related disorders. In venues across the nation, including multiple ones in Austin and surrounding areas, Chuck E. Cheese’s ensures the play areas have dimmed lighting, lower music, less crowding and noise, and limited appearances by Chuck E.

  1. YMCA Swimming Lessons, Gymnastics, and Dance

The YMCA in Austin offers swimming lessons, gymnastics lessons, and dance lessons for children with special needs – SNAP Aquatics, SNAP Gymnastics, and SNAP Dance. SNAP Aquatics fosters a fun, non-competitive environment for children with special needs to learn swimming and water safety skills. The SNAP Gymnastics program teaches basic movement skills to children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and other disorders. SNAP Dance helps children with special needs build confidence through expressive movements.