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10 Fun Activities to Keep Kids With Special Needs Busy This Holiday Season

November 29, 2016

A post by AngelSense, a GPS & voice monitoring solution designed for children with special needs.

Learn more about how AngelSense’s GPS tracking device can help improve your child’s safety and well-being.

For many special needs families, the holiday season doesn’t have the same cheerful ring to it as it does for other families. A combination of changes in routine and sensory overwhelm can make the festive season particularly challenging. While there are many obstacles to overcome, sometimes the simplest of activities, such as sharing a plate of cookies and milk, can take on extra significance this time of year. To help you plan some simple holiday fun, the AngelSense community has created a list of activities the whole family can enjoy.   

Meet a sensory-friendly Santa

1. Meet a sensory-friendly Santa

Through December 4, over 180 shopping centers around the US will be offering children with special needs the opportunity to meet Santa in a sensory-friendly environment. There are three different sensory-friendly programs being run country-wide including Caring Santa, Santa Cares and Sensitive Santa.

These programs have been set up to cater to unique sensory and developmental needs. It’s thanks to this initiative that special children can experience a time-honored Christmas tradition including a photo session with Santa without feeling overwhelmed.

2. Go to the library

A library that isn’t crowded and noisy can be the ideal environment for a special child to spend a few hours. At some libraries you may even find games which are appropriate for your child. Another great thing about about libraries is that many offer programs and activities for children with special needs.

The Brooklyn Public Library, for example, has a range of inclusive services designed to make children with special needs feel comfortable while still providing them with the stimulation they need. There are also free services to help special needs parents care for and cope with any challenges they may be facing.


Enjoy a sensory-friendly Broadway performance

3. Enjoy a sensory-friendly Broadway performance

Going to the theatre can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience for children with special needs. The key is to make sure the theatre and production are suitable for your child. There are even some theatres that host autism-friendly shows.

Theatre Access NYC, for example, prides itself on making Broadway productions accessible to all. They offer a selection of autism-friendly performances with adjustments to the production, such as reducing jarring sounds and strobe lights. For these performances, the theatre lobby becomes a quiet area and there are special needs specialists on hand should your child need to leave the theatre mid-performance.

The Theatre Development Fund also puts on sensory-friendly performances as part of their Autism Theatre Initiative. These performances are also slightly modified. Their upcoming performances include The Phantom of the Opera and Aladdin.

4. Watch a sensory-friendly film

Many movie theaters have started offering sensory-friendly movie screenings which are suitable for children with special needs. During these screenings, the lights can be turned up and the volume is lowered making the experience less overwhelming. In most of these screenings, children also have the option to get up, walk around and even sing.

The Autism Society has partnered with AMC to offer a selection of films suitable for children with sensory processing issues. There are generally four screenings every month in movie houses around the country from Alabama to Wisconsin. This month they’re screening Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Moana and Rogue One.

Sign up for a special needs camp

5. Sign up for a special needs camp

Many camps have programs and activities tailored for children with ADHD and autism. These camps provide special children with a safe, non-threatening environment to meet and interact with others. For many children this can be a highly rewarding experience.

A few camps that offer winter retreats include Minnesota-based True Friends for both children and adults with special needs, with a selection of different programs throughout November and December. The Friendship Circle Winter Camp is a four day special needs camp beginning December 26. Other winter camps for children with special needs can be found here.

6. Explore a train exhibition

For many children with special needs, trains are an endless source of fascination. From their wheels which seem to spin perpetually to their schedules and the fact that they can be classified. A great way to nurture this interest is by taking your child to a train exhibition.

The Monmouth Museum hosts such an exhibition every year from November 20 to December 31. While this isn’t specifically for children with special needs, this can still be a fun outing for your family. Just be sure to plan your visit for early morning when the museum is likely to be less busy.

7. Attend a Christmas party

A party doesn’t have to be overwhelming or stressful for your child. There are many organizations that host annual special needs Christmas parties. If you hear of such a party in your area, it’s worth looking into. Attending an event like this is the ideal way to give your special child a taste of the holiday season without any of the added anxiety and sensory overwhelm.

Ability Tree is hosting the Ability Tree NJ Christmas Party on December 10. This is a festive, special needs party suitable for the entire family. There will be food, a selection of appropriate games, carols as well as a visit from Santa.

Enroll in an art class

8. Enroll in an art class

Art can be therapeutic for special children as it offers them a creative outlet for thoughts and feelings they may otherwise have issues expressing. This is especially beneficial for children who are nonverbal or have a limited ability to communicate clearly. Many museums and art studios offer art classes during the festive season so be sure to look out for any classes in your area.

The Center for Contemporary Art in New Jersey offers art classes for children with ASD and special needs. In addition to trained professionals, the center has a wheelchair accessible pottery wheel for any children who may need it.

9. Indulge in some gentle bouncing

Few things are as liberating as time spent jumping on a bounce house. The Bounce Factory is a fun center which offers everything from bounce houses to laser tag. They’ve also introduced Gentle Jump sessions especially for children with special needs. Not only are these sessions designed to be less overwhelming, but the Bounce Factory also has a quiet zone with soft lighting and bean bag chairs in case a child needs a calm place to decompress. Staff at the Bounce Factory are also trained to help special children, and ensure they have an enjoyable time.

Go out for a sensory-friendly meal

10. Go out for a sensory-friendly meal

A meal out at a sensory-friendly restaurant can be a great way to bond during the festive season.

Mary’s Pizza Shack in Northern California has partnered with Anova to offer sensory friendly kits for special needs diners. The kits include a weighted lap pad, noise-reduction ear muffs, a selection of sensory toys as well as a surprise toy for children to take home. While this may not alleviate sensory overwhelm, these kits are a step in the right direction and could go a long way toward making eating at restaurants bearable for children with special needs.

In Addition, the Attleboro, MA, location of Chuck E. Cheese and the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) are collaborating to provide Sensory Sensitive Sundays. These events will take place on the first Sunday of every month (beginning Sunday Nov. 6) and feature reduced noise and dimmed lighting from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The next event will be held on December 4. Another Chuck E. Cheese’s in Glen Burnie, MD, holds the same kind of event on the second Sunday of every month. Other locations have offered similar events – we recommend that you check with your local Chuck E. Cheese.

As stressful as the holiday season can be for children with special needs, you can make the most of the time with some simple but fun activities your whole family will enjoy. Happy holidays!

AngelSense is committed to creating a safer world for children with special needs. We designed the AngelSense GPS tracking solution to give parents the peace of mind that their child is safe at all times.  Try AngelSense Today.

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