Special Needs Programs and Classes for All New York City Kids
Some kids take so many extra-curricular activities they barely have time to play, but for other kids, after-school classes can be a challenge. Whether your child has a developmental challenge, delay, disability or disorder, or they just struggle with all things organized, many kids can not partake in a slew of general after-school activities. Luckily, no matter how small or great a child's challenges might be, NYC offers a number of options for children of every ability.
Don't forget to ask about summer and holiday mini-camps. Many of these programs do offer them, too.
See our Special Needs Guide for more ideas, programs and services.
Daniel's Music – East Harlem
1595 Lexington Avenue, Second floor
Daniels Music offers FREE after-school and evening music classes for children (ages 3 and older) and adults of all abilities and challenges. When needed, children are assigned a helper to assist them. Classes are held in the DMF Music Center and the offerings are extensive. Each semester closes with a musical celebration so students can show off all they've learned.
Nordoff-Robbins Center For Music Therapy at New York University – Greenwich Village
82 Washington Square East, Fourth Floor
Nordoff-Robbins has a wonderful reputation in the realm of music therapy. It offers early-intervention programs from infancy to preschool-age, as well as child, adolescent and adult music therapy. Classes can be individual or group with an emphasis on vocal and instrumental improvisation.
Piano Plus – Upper East Side
135 East 83rd Street
Piano Plus offers Adaptive Instrument Instruction, guitar and piano lessons and music therapy. Classes can be tailored to the needs of infants, children and adolescents—as well as adults. Piano Plus' innovative multi-faceted, multi-sensory approach to musical instruction is intended for people of all abilities.
Swim Works – Midtown
109 East 50th Street
The adaptive Aquatics Program specializes in helping children with a wide array of disabilities from age 3 months onward in a heated pool. Classes offer one-on-one instruction. All instructors have been personally trained by Swim Works owner and director Natalie Palmer, a certified Special Olympics coach.
Sports and Gymnastics
Super Soccer Stars – Various Locations
See website for details.
This popular local soccer organization provides soccer for children ages 4-12 with ADD, autism and other forms of PDDNOS (Pervasive Developmental-Not Otherwise Specified). These weekly 45-minute classes are always grouped by age and have a low child-to-adult ratio.
PowerPlay – Park Slope
432 Third Avenue
A low student-teacher ratio lets instructors focus on gross motor skills and increasing muscle tone and coordination. These 45-minute classes serve special-needs kids ages 2-9. Power Play's website is always out of date, so call 718-369-9880 for more information.
Worksman Cycle Company – Ozone Park
94-15 100th Street
Technically this isn't a class or activity, but Worksman Cycles is a bike company that does a lot of work for children with special needs bringing affordable, specially modified kids’ bicycles and tricycles to consumers from its local factory. If it doesn't have what you need in a pre-fabricated special bike, it will customize a bike or trike to meet your child's exact needs.
Dance and Yoga
Dancing Dreams – Bayside
23-91 Bell Boulevard
This innovative program provides dance instruction for children ages 3-17 with physical and medical challenges. Each child is assigned a trained teenage assistant, who is part of the Dancing Dreams Volunteer Leadership Program, to help them succeed in class.
Gallop NYC – Various Locations
See website for list of locations.
This organization provides therapeutic horseback riding for children with disabilities. Lessons are conducted under the direction of a NARHA-certified riding instructor and with the guidance of an experienced physical therapist. GALLOP clients learn to sit their horses properly, use their reins to command the horse, and ride at a walk and trot. Gallop NYC offers therapy to children with autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, traumatic head injury, post-stroke, pervasive developmental disorders, mental retardation and individuals who have suffered emotional trauma. One of my children attended; the instructors were patient, caring, attentive and overall, excellent. I definitely give Gallop NYC a huge thumbs up.
Flying Manes Therapeutic Riding – Riverdale
These equine-assisted lessons cater to children with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges. All lessons are led by a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International-certified instructor.
Puppies for Emotive Therapy – Upper West Side
145 West 96 Street, No. 1E
Psychologist Barbara Wolf-Dorlester, Ph.D., and her dog, Moxie, a gentle Kerry Blue Terrier, offer therapy to children and adults with a range of social-emotional problems, language delays, sensory-processing disorders, attention and impulse-control problems. (On a personal note, our last dog was a certified therapy dog, and though we worked as a team in hospitals, as opposed to working with people with special needs, I can testify to the emotional lift our dog gave even the most dejected patients. They made big gains in fine motor control, too; patients pulled themselves up to hug our dog, stretched out weak arms and hands just to brush her. It's a great form of therapy.)
Group Classes for Socialization
JCC Special-Needs Programs – Upper West Side
334 Amsterdam Avenue
The JCC offers an extensive "Kulam" Sunday program for children with a "variety of needs," including children on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum and with varied communication and learning differences. There are also separate after-school special-needs programs. And no, you don’t have to be Jewish to have your child participate.
92nd Street Y Nesher Programs – Upper East Side
1395 Lexington Avenue
The 92nd Street Y offers special-needs children a number of "Nesher" programs. There are after-school programs as well as Sunday Nesher programs. Children with developmental disabilities including neurological impairment, mental retardation, speech and language delays, learning disabilities, PDD, Asperger syndrome and autism are all eligible for the program. An interview with the Nesher director, Melanie Mandel, is required for all new students. Call 212-415-5626 for more information. Just as at the JCC, you don’t have to be Jewish to have your child participate.
Ready Set Play – Tribeca
85 Warren Street
This organization sponsors playgroups for special-needs children from ages 2-8. A focus is put on fun, while also helping kids with special needs learn to develop appropriate play skills.
SNACK: Special-Needs Activity Center for Kids – Midtown
316 East 53rd Street
SNACK offers a variety of after-school and weekend activities for children ages 3-18. Its focus is on children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other similar developmental and behavioral disabilities. SNACK prides itself on a low student-to-staff ratio. Options include swimming, sports, soccer and Snacktivities, a two-hour socialization class. If you want to try before you commit, SNACK offers a free trial class.
YAI Link – Various Locations
Primarily serving Manhattan residents (various locations)
The YAI Network provides various recreational services, after-school and weekend programs for children of varying disabilities. The YAI Autism Center offers a variety of play and support groups for children with autism and their families. Call YAI LINK at 212-273-6182 for more information.
Friendship Circle – Chelsea
121 West 19th Street
Friendship Circle, sponsored by Chabad, offers two types of programs for special-needs children of all faiths. Friends at Home pairs specially trained teenage volunteers with special-needs children. The teen "buddies" then pay weekly visits to the homes of these children. During these visits, volunteers play board games, read stories, enjoy music, and engage in age- and developmentally-appropriate activities. Friends at Home services are FREE. In addition, Friendship Circle offers a monthly Sunday Circle drop-off group.
Looking for more resources? Visit our Special Needs Guide for more ideas, programs and services.
This story originally published in August 2010.