When planning activities for kids with special needs, parents search for sensory-friendly options that are fun for everyone.
The city and suburbs cover plenty of special needs events, but did you know many popular attractions offer sensory-friendly options when visiting at any time? There are plenty of zoos, museums, theatres and more that offer apps, sensory maps and serene break areas for your child with sensory sensitivities.
The Art Institute of Chicago has a map that outlines in green which rooms are usually quiet and aren’t crowded. The spaces highlighted in yellow have natural sunlight.
BZ Care Kits are available at the North and South Guest Relations. Each kit is designed for kids with sensory disabilities and includes noise-reducing headphones, visual schedules, self-identifying badges, social stories and more. Check out their map for quiet locations throughout the zoo.
At participating locations, Chuck E. Cheese will open two hours early the first Sunday of the month to offer sensory-friendly play time for kids with special needs. They will have dimmed lighting and a quieter dining and entertainment environment.
The Cosley Zoo and all of its events and programs are sensory inclusive. All staff members were trained on how to recognize and handle sensory overload situations. Families can download the KultureCity app on the Apple Store or Google Play before heading there where they can learn all about the sensory features the Cosley Zoo has to offer. Weighted lap pads and sensory bags are available to guests who may feel overwhelmed in the zoo environment.
The museum offers monthly adaptive play times for families with disabilities, sensory processing disorders and/or on the autism spectrum. Children at these events will be given sensory kits that include noise reduction headphones, social stores, weighted neck wraps, times, fidget objects and more. There will be light and noise reduction, visual cues in exhibits and Respite Room for sensory breaks. There is limited attendance at these events, so make sure to pre-register online.
Field Museum guests can preview exhibitions and follow a sensory-friendly map through its Apple Store and Google Play “Field Museum for All” app. You can also create a customizable schedule and play interactive games.
This museum offers various free events (Everyone at Play) for families with children that have special needs to come explore their exhibits while closed to the general public. A quiet room for stimulation breaks will be available to those who would like to use it. Pre-registration is required.
Visitors can experience the zoo through the inclusive app for Google Play and Apple Store customers by KultureCity. Sensory bags are available in the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Searle Visitor Center, which includes noise-cancelling headphones, a stress ball and yellow-tinted sunglasses. A quiet room is located in the Member Center near the Searle Visitor Center. Tactile opportunities and places with high and low stimulation are listed on the zoo’s website.
Enjoy the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Sensory-Friendly Mornings, which offers neurodiverse visitors of all ages a chance to explore the museum at their own pace. The lights in the lobby are less intense during these mornings and there is a quiet break area if you need it.
The Museum of Science and Industry details which exhibits and attractions are loud, where flashing lights and disorienting displays are, and areas with low light in a sensory map.
Download the social narrative document for children on the Autism Spectrum and those with sensory processing disorders. This resource will show children ahead of time what they can expect from the museum. Also, listening devices are available for guests who are hard of hearing.
Visitors to the Shedd Aquarium can create a personalized schedule and communicate with museum staff through icons with the app “SensoryFriendly Shedd Aquarium,” which is available on the Apple Store and Google Play. There is also a quiet room, located off the main foyer.
Check their website for their Sensory Friendly Play Session events, offering a two-hour low sensory play session for families with children with special needs. The museum will lower their lights and sounds and offer a little extra personal space for visitors to explore.
Visual schedules are available for guests with special needs. These map-based tools are specifically designed for those on the autism spectrum or with learning or developmental disabilities. They include maps of the Children’s Garden, Thornhill Area, Meadow Lake Path and Visitor Center Area.
This suburban playground in Lisle is for all kids complete with a sound garden, tree top swings, sculptures and more play areas to come.
With locations in Palatine (temporarily closed) and Franklin Park, this indoor playground features sensory-friendly equipment for kids to use.
Find more inclusive playgrounds for Chicagoland kids.
Theaters and venues
This theatre geared towards children offers many sensory-friendly performances, which are tailored specifically for guests on the autism spectrum or with other sensory sensitivities. They have quiet rooms, ASL interpretation, open captioning for the audience to read along and touch tours for guests who are blind or have low vision.
This award-winning theatre is located in the downtown theatre district. It offers various sensory-friendly/relaxed performances throughout the year. Those performances include lower lights and sounds, limited crowds and has a designated quiet area. Sensory bags are available during all performances and they include noise cancelling headphones, a picture communication keyring, a notebook and pen, two fidgets and a story.
United Center has been certified as a sensory inclusive venue in Chicago by KultureCity. Staff members have been trained on recognizing guests with special needs and how to properly handle guests having a sensory overload situation. They offer sensory bags, which include verbal cue cards, fidget tools, noise canceling headphones and a weighted lap pad. Check the bags out at the Guest Relations booths (Gate 2 Concourse, Gate 6 Concourse, Section 221 and Section 325).
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