BlueSprig’s Autism-Friendly Summer Guide 2023

BlueSprig June 1, 2023

As the temperature rises and school draws to an end, the anticipation of summer is unmistakable! However, many parents of children with autism may feel lost when the school year ends. Kids thrive on structure, routine and knowing what comes next, so summer break can often feel more challenging than fun. Here at BlueSprig, our purpose is to give families with children on the autism spectrum all the help and support they need. It can be a task finding the right things for your child to do and take part in. To make sure you make the most of your summer, we have chosen a selection of autism-friendly events and activities which everyone in the family can have a blast doing and are inclusive for those with sensory sensitivities.

These activities incorporate new and different smells, sounds, feelings, and textures to give your child a great sensory experience. It goes without saying that every child with autism is different. With that being said, many of these summer activities can be modified to suit your child’s unique needs. This guide should give you ideas for how to have a great time with your family or stimulate some creativity and let you search for accessible sensory-based activities in your local area.

Local Autism-Friendly Summer Activities

Kid swinging on a swing set

Go for a Dip

Swimming offers many therapeutic benefits to kids with autism. Swimming is a great way to provide an enjoyable sensory experience, help strengthen bodies and reduce anxiety. It can also bring more confidence, coordination and fun into kids’ lives! Plus, there’s nothing like taking a dip on a hot summer day!

The YMCA, beach, lake and county reservoir are all great options to take your child with autism swimming this summer. By heading to the community pool in the morning or on a Sunday afternoon, you can avoid crowds. Many pools even offer designated special needs swimming times, lessons, and sports.If your child doesn’t swim yet, then try a splash pad. Of course, it’s extremely important you stay vigilant and keep your eye on your child when they’re in the water, no matter how shallow it may be.

See a Movie

Going to the movies is a great summer activity for kids with autism when it’s too hot or rainy out, or when they just don’t feel like being outside. But we’re not talking about just any movie. AMC Theaters (and some smaller local theaters) regularly hosts sensory-friendly movie nights for kids and young adults on the autism spectrum. The theater leaves the lights turned slightly up and forgoes their rule against bringing your own snacks and the “Silence is Golden” policy to create a safe, comfortable, autism-friendly environment for the perfect rainy day summer activity. Audience members are welcome to get up and pace, dance, walk, shout, or sing during the movie, so your family can relax and enjoy some quality family time without worrying about disturbing fellow moviegoers.

Explore Arts & Crafts

With so much time spent at school and therapies and practicing skills, it’s hard to find free time during the school year. Their busy schedules mean many kids with autism don’t get the chance to explore their artistic side with arts and crafts. But that all changes when summer rolls around. Integrating arts and crafts into your child’s summer routine can help give their day the structure they crave when school is out. Art therapy can offer many benefits to kids on and off the spectrum. And depending on the materials you use, doing arts and crafts can be an enjoyable sensory experience for your child. Simply set up a designated craft corner at your home and browse Pinterest to find countless autism-friendly craft projects you can try with your child this summer.

Attend Summer Camp

Nowadays, there are several special needs children’s camps that offer a fun, safe, and therapeutic summer camp experience for children and young adults on the autism spectrum. Instead of typical camp counselors, special needs summer camps are home to academic, therapeutic and medical experts, like behavioral, speech and physical therapists. Depending on your child’s unique needs and capabilities, they might attend a day, a weekend, or week(s)-long summer camp session.

While it’s not the right fit for every family, a special needs summer camp offers an amazing opportunity for kids with special needs to learn how to cope with the dynamics of group situations; work on daily living, social and life skills; and expand their social group.If going to camp isn’t a realistic option for your child, you might head to the park or turn your backyard into a weekend summer camp experience! You can schedule some sensory-friendly activities that will engage your child and get them to spend some time outside.

Hopefully these autism-friendly summer activities (or whatever version of them you do) can help give your child the sensory experience, movement, and routine they need to have a successful summer.

Autism-Friendly Parks and Experiences

There were so many inclusive places we discovered on our search. Both Sesame Place locations, all 26 Six Flags in North America and Legoland’s Peppa Pig Theme Park are all Certified Autism Centers! Check out these other amazing, inclusive places and events to try out:

Kid playing in a water park

Animal Experiences in Texas

Fort Worth Zoo – Fort Worth, Texas

The Fort Worth Zoo is a designated as a Certified Autism Center™ (CAC). Staff have received specialized training to ensure they have the requisite knowledge, skills, temperament, and expertise to cater to all guests, including those with special needs.

Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch – San Antonio, TX

Convenient, safe, and fun all in one! The Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch provides tours from the comfort of your vehicle.

Texas State Aquarium – Corpus Christi

On the third Sunday of every month from 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM, families and children with sensory sensitivities will be able to enjoy the Aquarium in a quieter, modified environment, led by staff with sensory disorder training.

Dallas Zoo – Dallas, TX

The Dallas Zoo has partnered with KultureCity to ensure its programs, events, and campus are all sensory inclusive!

One Acre Farm – Porter, TX

In addition to fun sensory activities, you can walk around animal pens and see ducks, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, goats, potbelly pigs and horses.

Play Gym in Arizona

We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym – Tucson, AZ

WRTS is committed to providing a safe, nurturing, and fun environment to foster learning, exploration and safe sensory experiences through open play, parties, classes and more!

Water Parks in Florida

SeaWorld Orlando – Orlando, FL

Sesame Street Land, Aquatica Water Park and Discovery Cove all provide a sensory guide, ride accessibility program, and quiet rooms, along with trained staff who cater to the needs of all children.

Legoland Florida – Winter Haven, FL

Legoland provides a disabilities guide along with accommodations for those with sensory needs.

Sensory Friendly Events in Ohio

Sky Zone – Westlake, OH

Enjoy the freedom of jumping! Sensory hours areprovided for a quieter, toned-down jumping experience for those with special needs.

Center of Science and Industry (COSI) – Columbus, OH

COSI ensures all visitors have equitable access to exploring their interest in science, technology, engineering and math, and provides accommodation for guests with disabilities.

Cedar Point Amusement Park – Sandusky, OH

Cedar Point caters services to guests with autism by providing Boarding Pass and Parent Swap systems. The park also has several quiet attractions and zones to stop in throughout the day, including a sensory room!

Inclusive Playgrounds in Tennessee

Freedom Inclusive PlaygroundSmyrna, TN
An all-inclusive playground built by the community at Lee Victory Park.

Mary’s Magical Place Hendersonville, TN
The Hendersonville Parks & Recreation Department has established a recreational center that welcomes visitors of all ages and abilities.

Thisbe & Noah’s Promise Park at Nashville Zoo– Nashville, TN
The Nashville Zoo created an amazing playground, known as Promise Park, specifically designed to provide fun for all children regardless of ability level. It features a variety of pieces of equipment to accommodate both disabled and non-disabled children alike, promoting inclusion and fostering friendship through side-by-side play.

Nature Camp in Georgia

Hand Hoof & Heart Summer Camp – Acworth, GA

Camp All for One is an inclusive day camp for children and teens with or without disabilities. Camp activities include horseback riding, nature walks, fishing, cooking, gardening, music, arts and crafts, dance, team building games, special guests and so much more!

Theme Parks in California

Universal Studios Hollywood – Universal City, CA

Universal Studios provides special accommodations to those with disabilities. They even have a new sensory room located at the front of the park that includes rubber floor tiles, an activity panel wall, dimming lights, and two hiding tunnels.

Disneyland Park – Anaheim, CA

The Disneyland Resort offers a host of services to help guests with cognitive disabilities maximize their resort experience! They offer stroller and wheelchair rental, break areas, dietary accommodations, rider switch, and companion restrooms.

SeaWorld – San Diego, CA

SeaWorld San Diego provides a safe and enjoyable environment to all guests. Plus, they provide an Accessibility Guide that gives an overview of services and facilities available for guests with disabilities who are visiting.

We know that as a parent of a child with atuism, taking a risk on new experiences can be overwhelming. With the support of businesses that are welcoming to all, your family can have a blast this summer!