When raising a child with special needs, it might be hard to find things to do in the Chicago area. We’ve rounded up our favorite sensory-friendly activities created especially for families with special needs to take advantage of all the great things Chicagoland offers.
Find some peace and quiet in the loud city with these sensory-friendly museum play times. Make sure to preregister, though, since many have limited capacity due to COVID-19. You can also find more events focused on special needs listed in our calendar.
Upcoming dates: Sept. 8, Oct. 13, Nov. 10, Dec. 8
At 5 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month, a limited capacity of visitors can stroll through the Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn for up to two hours. Preregistration is required. The event is $7, free for members.
Upcoming dates: Sept. 26
Neurodiverse visitors of all ages can tour the MCA from 10-11:30 a.m. before the doors open to the public. The lobby lights are dimmed and a quiet space is available. Preregister at experience.mcachicago.org for “Pay what you can” tickets, which range between free-$15.
Upcoming dates: Oct. 17, Nov. 14
From 2-5 p.m., explore exhibits closed to the general public with a child — 8 years old or younger — with special needs at the Kohl Children’s Museum this fall. A quiet room for stimulation breaks will be available. Online preregistration is required for the free event.
Upcoming dates: TBA
The museum provides a modified environment for play and learning for children with disabilities, on the autism spectrum, and/or sensory processing disorders and their families. These playtimes allow families to play in a less stimulating environment with limited attendance. Preregistration is required.
While some museums don’t have events for families with special needs because of COVID-19, many offer apps, sensory maps and serene break areas.
The Art Institute has a map that outlines in green which rooms are usually quiet and aren’t crowded. The spaces highlighted in yellow have natural sunlight.
In addition to the sensory-friendly family room and a resource center to Hamill Family Play Zoo, Brookfield Zoo offers its BZ Care Kits, which includes noise-reducing headphones, visual schedules, self-identifying badges, social stories, and more.
Chicago Children’s Museum
Chicago Children Museum offers sound-muffling earphones and a “calming corner” on the third floor.
Field Museum for All
Field Museum guests can preview exhibitions and follow a sensory-friendly map through its Apple Store “Field Museum for All” app or its Google Play “Field Museum: Inclusion & Accessibility Tools” application.
Lincoln Park Zoo
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.
Museum of Science and Industry
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.
Visitors to the Shedd Aquarium can create a personalized schedule and communicate with museum staff through icons with the app “Sensory Friendly Shedd Aquarium,” which is available on the Apple Store and Google Play.
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 and Franklin Park, this indoor playground features sensory-friendly equipment for kids to use.
Find more inclusive playgrounds for Chicagoland kids.
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