Friends and family members who are close to children with special needs understand that it's often difficult to find welcoming and accessible spaces to go for family fun and entertainment. But there are tons of locations throughout LA where families and their kids can make friends, learn new things, and have fun. Inclusion and adaptability are key, and these local businesses work hard to make sure all families have the same participation opportunities.
DisABILITY Sports Festival
Erynn: This sports event gives children of all abilities the opportunity to have fun and compete in over 25 adapted sports! Paralympic coaches and elite athletes will work with kids to complete challenges like Light Saber Academy (adapted fencing), Wheel Chair Motor Cross, and more.
Participants of all ages and ability levels can participate for free, and there will be both Spanish translators and ASL interpreters available.
Cost: Registration is free!
My Play Club
3rd Saturday of the month, February through October
Erynn: The Arc Riverside County hosts this recurring play club for all families, hosting playdates for children with and without special needs. Kids can enjoy arts and crafts, interactive games, balloon and face painting, and more while parents connect. The event regularly takes place at a universally accessible playground, but some events can include field trips to movie theaters, amusement parks, and more.
Sensory Friendly Films at AMC Theatres
2nd and 4th Saturdays
Erynn: Twice a month, sensory-friendly showings invite families to enjoy current kid-friendly movies with lower sound, higher lighting, and the freedom to move around during the film.
Cost: Ticket prices vary based on location and timing
We Rock the Spectrum
Erynn: We Rock the Spectrum is a franchise gym operation that addresses the unique needs of kids on the autism spectrum and other children with special needs. Not only does each gym feature specialized occupational therapy equipment, but they encourage children of all abilities to participate in fun and physically challenging activities. Some locations also offer arts and crafts and other activities.
Cost: Open play starts at $12/child
Segerstrom Center for the Arts Sensory-Friendly Performance Series
Erynn: Segerstrom Center puts on live shows of all types and caters to diverse audiences. During sensory-friendly shows, attendees can move around the theater, use electronic devices for communication purposes, take breaks as necessary, and even bring in food, drink, or fidget devices. See the Center's FAQs on sensory-friendly events for more information. Audio described and ASL-interpreted shows are also available under the Accessible Performances umbrella.
Cost: Tickets start at $39
Dream Big Children's Center
Erynn: The founder of Dream Big has experience working with children with autism, and she purposely designed her indoor play space to accommodate children all over the spectrum. The facility also provides therapy for children with autism, though that is a separate service from drop-in play. Attractions include pretend play areas, dress-up supplies, climbing toys, soft play for babies and toddlers, ride-on toys, and more.
Cost: Open play starts at $10/child
Autism Families Night at Aquarium of the Pacific
Erynn: While a day at the aquarium can be an overwhelming experience for many families, this unique after-hours event lets children with autism and their families explore at their own pace. All areas of the museum (except Lorikeet Forest) will be open for families to peruse in a tranquil and calm space.
Cost: $7/person, under age 3 free
Little League Challenger Division
Erynn: The Little League offers an adaptive baseball program for kids with special needs--and there's likely a Challenger team already in your area! Any child with special needs can participate, from ages 4 to 18, or 22 if the individual is still enrolled in school. There's also a Senior League Challenger Division to accommodate players 15+ with no age cap.
To get involved, contact the Little League for the division nearest you.
KEEN Los Angeles Programs
Erynn: KEEN's premise is simple, but the benefits are anything but. Their athletic programs pair each child with an athlete mentor, and every child can participate regardless of his or her special needs. Activities include sports like swimming and basketball, plus programs to support caretakers and healthy family habits.
The Children's Ranch
Erynn: The Children's Ranch is a foundation that offers therapeutic equestrian programs, and many of the students there are funded through donor scholarships. Programs cover everything from one-on-one and group lessons to assisted lessons, parent and child "ranch hand" programs, and sibling/parent workshops. Lessons in horseback riding and caring for the animals can help children and their families develop confidence and physical and social skills.
Los Angeles Abilities Expo
Fri-Sat 11am-5pm; Sun 11am-4pm
Erynn: Abilities Expos across the US focus on the "ability" part of living with a disability. Events showcase new technology and solutions that enhance users' abilities to enjoy life to the fullest. Workshops cover topics like assistive telephone technology, therapy dog certification, accessible travel, and more. Events add to the fun with activities like face painting, adaptive dance and sports, and more. An adaptive play space is also available for young kids to enjoy and relax in.
Cost: Free, but pre-registration is requested
Back 2 School Community Health + Resource Fair
Erynn: Known as the biggest inclusion healthcare and resource fair in LA, this event includes educational workshops, health screenings, wellness information, and more for families with children who have developmental disabilities. Activities like rock climbing, arts and crafts, pony rides, a bounce house, gaming stations, live music, and celebrity appearances are sure to attract an audience- and raffle giveaways are a fun perk, too.
Erynn: AYSO is a nationwide soccer program that also accommodates children with special needs. The AYSO VIP program involves players having a "buddy" who helps them learn soccer skills, make friends, and more. There are countless AYSO divisions throughout LA- find your region via their website to find out who to contact to sign up!
One with the Water
Gina I.: One with the Water is a non-profit organization that focuses on children and adults with special needs, helping them master important swimming skills. The program is designed for those with cognitive or physical challenges and uses a gentle approach to help swimmers feel comfortable and safe in the water. Lessons are offered in a private or semi-private setting, and aim to help kids become they best swimmer they can be.
Danny's Farm at Special Spirit
Erynn: This petting farm creates a welcoming environment for all visitors, but particularly those with autism and other developmental disabilities. The site is actually an equine therapy center, and the staff is familiar with creating a social and nurturing environment for all.
Cost: $5/child and one adult free; by appointment only
The Gentle Barn
Erynn: The Gentle Barn is intentionally safe and quiet not just for the animals, but for visitors who may also have special needs. The focus is caring for rescued animals and opening people's hearts to connect with nature. Entry to the upper barnyard is allowed on a specific schedule to keep both animals and visitors from becoming overwhelmed. Private tours and VIP experiences are also available.
Cost: Tickets are $20/adults; $10/kids; season passes are $60
The Miracle Project
Gina I.: The Miracle Project is a theatre, film, and expressive arts program for children, teens, and adults with autism and other special needs. The fully inclusive program features a variety of classes, like Musical Theatre and Improv for Interaction, designed to help kids build social and communication skills.
Cost: Varies by program, however tuition may be covered by the Regional Center. Call for details.
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Erynn: Not only does the Annenberg Center have a telecoil induction system for hearing assistance, as their Visitor Guide explains, but they also have elevators for easy access to all levels, plus a Quiet Room for patrons to use at any point during a show. In this special room, you can still see and hear the performance without anyone hearing or seeing you.
Cost: Ticket prices vary, some kids' shows are free!
Kids Like Me
Erynn: Kids Like Me hosts after-school programs, camps, teen and kids' clubs, social skills groups, and even a resource fair for families with special needs. Kids from preschool to high school age are welcome to participate, and the center also provides therapeutic guidance through developmental services centers.
Broadway Gymnastic School Special Education Programs
Erynn: Broadway offers therapeutic gymnastics for all ages with small group classes and 1:1 instruction. As the training center for the Westside Special Olympics, the facility is equipped to accommodate the needs of every student, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Special education classes run weekly.
Cost: Class pricing varies
Ride On Therapeutic Horseback Riding
Gina I.: Ride On is a non-profit, serving children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities through therapeutic horsemanship programs. Under the guidance of a licensed physical, occupational or speech therapist, their nationally accredited hippotherapy program emphasizes the beneficial effect of a horse’s movement on the rider, providing strong sensory and physical input to the brain. Plus, it's fun! They also teach adaptive riding as well as riding lessons for siblings.
Cost: Fees vary by program
Ballet For All Kids
Erynn: Ballet For All Kids truly is for everyone- the studio uses curriculum specifically developed to accommodate all participants regardless of ability level or body type. Individualized support and a non-restrictive environment help all dancers to succeed. Adults and teens can take classes, too- contact the studio for proper class placement.
Cost: Tuition fees start at $80/class; scholarships are available
Primary photo: Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash
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