Special Needs

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Best NYC Playgrounds for Children with Special Needs

There's certainly no shortage of wonderful playgrounds and parks in New York City. But when you add a child with special needs into the mix, the selection of truly great playgrounds suddenly seems much smaller. As a mom of of a special needs child, I've explored quite a few of the city's playgrounds in search of the ones with the best play-for-all features and equipment.

Happily, many NYC playgrounds meet or exceed the Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and there are literally hundreds of special needs-friendly playgrounds throughout NYC. Some also include accessible JennSwings, those big plastic swings that offer full-body positioning support for kids up to 125 pounds. But the adaptive swing doesn't always appeal to my son, so there need to be other attractions for a playground to be cool in his book.

I'm spotlighting 17 playgrounds that I feel truly are the best. Not only are they accessible (half the battle), they're fun for all ages, with and without special needs. Grab some sunblock, towels, sand toys, and running shoes and get exploring: Your kids will thank you for it!

Sensory Garden in Shoreham: An Immersive, Kid-Friendly Experience

If you have kids who love investigating their surroundings, the AHRC Suffolk's sensory garden is a great spot to spend an afternoon. The garden, which opened in May 2017, is a therapeutic environment for residents of Shoreham Homes as well as children and adults of all abilities.

A visit to this unique space is unlike a trip to any park or playground in the area. The garden offers different ways for visitors to interact with the installations and natural settings while inviting them to touch, smell, taste, and play. Admission is FREE. 

For more sensory experiences with kids, see our guide to special-needs facilities and programs on Long Island, including our list of inclusive playgrounds that offer more choices for great outdoor fun.

7 Great Programs for Long Island Kids With Special Needs

Without doubt, people who are challenged with special needs can experience sadness, insecurity, isolation, and exclusion. With increased attention paid to autism, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, and other conditions, research and resources seem to be increasing.

Unfortunately, some of these programs are not publicized sufficiently to provide easy access for families who are faced with the responsibility of designing a quality life for their children. There are, however, several organizations here on Long Island that help those with special needs live their best lives possible. And, we’ve compiled a list just for you.

For more educational and developmental programs for Long Island kids, see our classes and enrichment guide or our Long Island Special Needs Guide.

Theaters with Sensory-Friendly Performances for NJ Kids

Taking littles to the theater opens up opportunities for exposure to the arts, building social skills, and learning about appropriate audience behavior. For children with autism, developmental disabilities, or sensory sensitivities (such as difficulties with bright lights, loud noises and sudden, surprising bursts of volume or activity), the theater can be an intimidating place.

Luckily, NJ is home to several performing arts spaces that offer exclusive performances for kids with special needs, so the entire family can experience the arts together. These sensory-friendly performances often include accommodations such as lowered volume and raised lighting, the ability to move about the theater freely, dedicated quiet areas, and trained staff to lend a helping hand should the need arise.

Read on for a list of theaters and upcoming performances where you can know that your child will feel welcomed and loved, just as they are. We hope you enjoy the show!

Summer Camps for Kids with Special Needs in the NYC area

It's tough to find the right summer camp for any kid. But if your child has special needs, like autism or ADHD, sensory-motor challenges, social anxiety, or learning differences, choosing a program can be especially nerve-racking: we want our kids to enjoy a traditional summer-camp experience, complete with swimming and lanyards and new friendships, while also receiving the kind of individual attention they need and with the option to avoid activities that might cause undue stress.

We've rounded up a number of camps favored by NYC families for their kids with disabilities or other challenges. Camps outside of New York City and on Staten Island provide bussing, so don't be discouraged by the seemingly far-flung locations: it can be especially therapeutic for kids to get out of the city for the summer.

While most of these camps cater exclusively to special-needs children, other traditional summer camps often offer inclusion programs for those with mild special needs (a few are mentioned below). Please consult our Summer Camp Guide for NYC Kids for a list of our favorite summer camps across the city to see if there are any that might work for your child.

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