Michaela's blog

Inclusive Services at BPL: Free Special Needs Program at the Library

Ever since we moved to southern Brooklyn from the Upper West Side, I've been on the hunt to replace all of the amazing special needs activities we had access to in Manhattan with only limited success. That's why I was really excited to stumble across the FREE Inclusive Services at the Brooklyn Public Library program.

The program, formerly known as The Child's Places, takes place at five borough branches and is a lot more than books. The activities, geared toward children with special needs ages newborn to teen, include reading, playing and clubs where participants engage in a variety of enriching hands-on activities. True to their name, the offerings are inclusive, which means you can bring siblings of all abilities. So no more schlepping to Manhattan when looking for FREE fun for my special needs tween.

9 Sensory Gyms for Children's Physical Therapy in Manhattan

Living in a city as diverse as New York means that many services are right at our fingertips, including expert physical, occupational, sensory and speech therapists who specialize in children. Whether your child is facing a lifetime of therapy due to disability, or is working to overcome a developmental delay or other issue, the city's sensory gyms and therapists can help.

Manhattan has a bunch of amazing sensory gyms that offer fun, safe environments for children to work on their core strength, balance, fine motor skills, language, sensory integration, behavior, attention and social interaction skills. The bad news? There are so many options that picking the best sensory gym for your child’s particular needs may feel like finding a needle in a haystack. We've rounded up nine top gyms to get you started. This list is by no means comprehensive, but as the mom to a tween with special needs who's been to quite a few of these spots, I believe these nine are a great place to start.

Check out our special needs and disability guide for more crucial info on resources and services for NYC families.

Brooklyn Dance Classes for Kids: Ballet, Tap & More Lessons

My daughter is constantly putting on tap routines after dinner and showing off her latest moves for anyone who makes eye contact on the subway. So dance classes are something my family knows a lot about. When we moved to Brooklyn last fall, the thought of trekking into Manhattan for dance lessons seemed daunting. But after a little research, I found that we wouldn't need to leave the borough to find quality dance schools.

While we ended up going with a studio near our Bay Ridge home, there are plenty of fantastic options to choose from in Brooklyn. Bonus: The schools tend to be fairly reasonable in terms of price (especially when compared to Manhattan) but many also set aside money for financial aid, so it's worth inquiring about scholarships and sliding-scale tuition. Here are 11 great Brooklyn dance schools that offer classes for kids and teens who are serious about ballet, tap, modern and other dance styles.

Find more NYC classes in our Classes Guide and Directory Listings.

Adaptive Water Sports for NYC Kids with Special Needs: Swimming, Boating, Water-skiing & More

For NYC kids, one of the greatest pleasures of summer is getting all wet in pools, at beaches and on boats. However, for children with special needs like my son, water play can spark a variety of anxieties and sensory issues.

Happily, the tri-state area is home to a number of adaptive water sports programs specifically tailored to children with autism and other special needs. So they can learn to swim, sail and even water-ski in a supportive and understanding environment. Bonus: Many of these special needs water play programs are FREE or inexpensive.

5 Special Needs-Friendly Amusement Parks Near NYC

Most of my kids love amusement parks. For my three little ones, there is no ride too big, too scary or too fast (though the height restrictions sometimes say otherwise). As our family balloons to five children this year, amusement parks are becoming more of a luxury (all of those tickets add up). But what makes an amusement park outing even more challenging for us than money is our teen with special needs. Unlike his siblings, he's not a fan of rides, screaming children, roller coasters or that big bucket that dumps water on everyone's heads. So it takes a lot of planning to have a successful theme park experience with my brood.

Luckily, there are five wonderful theme parks near New York City that can accommodate my son with special needs while still delivering a thrilling time for the rest of my family. Most are within a two-hour drive of Manhattan (also good if your children with special needs hates being cooped up in a car, like mine). A few have park-wide special needs programs in place; the others host special needs-friendly days when the usual sensory triggers (all the screaming and loud music and lights) are kept to a minimum. Here are five special-needs friendly amusement parks near NYC.

NYC Allergen-Free Bakeries: 10 Sweet Spots for Gluten-Free, Nut-Free & Dairy-Free Cakes & Other Treats

In addition to having a teenager with special needs, my family was recently thrust into the world of food allergies. Our youngest is severely allergic to dairy, soy and nuts, and since I'm still nursing, that means I can't eat anything with those ingredients either. We've been allergen-free for about a year now, but as my son gets older, he’s beginning to beg for the same goodies that his brothers and sister get, making feeding the kids quite challenging, especially when we're out and about.

Thankfully, NYC isn't just filled with allergen-free restaurants, it also has plenty of allergen-free bakeries. In fact, I've discovered so many delicious shops selling nut, soy, dairy and gluten-free treats like cakes, cookies and even ice cream, I'm almost grateful to be eating allergen-free... almost. Here are 10 of my family's favorites.

Special Needs-Friendly Ski Resorts Near NYC: Adaptive Winter Sports Programs for Kids of Different Abilities

Winter is a wonderful season for outdoor fun—just ask my three young snow-loving kids. In fact, there are so many fantastic skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing resorts near New York City, it's difficult to choose.

But since I'm also a mom to a teenager with special needs who isn't into winter sports, that makes our decision all the more challenging. He is both physically and cognitively disabled, and the thought of struggling onto lifts, into gear, up hills and through crowds doesn't appeal to him—not to mention the possibility of wiping out. So my family needs a resort that's able to accommodate children of all ages as well as abilities.

Happily, there are some amazing adaptive winter sports programs at resorts within a few hours of NYC, and some are low cost or even FREE. Here are five ski programs for special needs families.

Bay Ridge Places to Play: Owl's Head Park, Shore Road Park & Indoor Play Spaces

We finish up our month-long focus on Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with a roundup my family's favorite places to play in the area, both outdoors and inside. The neighborhood's biggest and best known green spaces, Owl's Head Park and Shore Road Park, both boast incredible views of New York Harbor, old-school playgrounds and thrilling sledding hills. But there are a handful of other cute playgrounds worth checking out, plus some cozy indoor spots to play, including locally owned play space Play Days & Parties. Here are our top places for kids to romp around in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

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