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.
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.
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
When: Every Wednesday and Saturday, starting November 21, from 11:00am-11:30am
Where: The DoSeum
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
When: Sunday December 2nd
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.