As the mother of an adult child with special needs, I am always on the lookout for things to do and places he can go that will “work” for him. My eyes and ears are always open, searching for events that will be positive and enjoyable, so I don’t end up frazzled, asking myself, “What was I thinking?” All the parents of special needs children and adults will likely know exactly what I’m talking about.
If you’re a parent of a child with autism or any other disability, it’s not always easy to find events and venues that are not too crowded, too stimulating or basically “too much” for our kids. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandated wheelchair access with ramps into buildings, wider doorways, accessible sidewalks and street crossings and other physical accommodations, but there are still many Americans with disabilities who are limited to where they can go by other less visible factors. Usually, these factors can’t be “fixed” by laws.
Thankfully, area businesses and local people with huge hearts and sensitive souls have stepped up to the plate on their own, creating events and activities that serve an often overlooked segment of our community — children and adults with intellectual disabilities, autism and other sensory issues. As a parent, I always talk with other parents of special needs children, as well as professionals in the field, and we exchange information about places that we found and things we discovered that will “work” for our children. Although I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg and I am overlooking many other places, I decided to compile a handy list of places that I discovered through word of mouth, in Delaware County and the surrounding area, in order to help other parents and family members looking for new ideas, especially for their adult children.
THE ARC OF DELAWARE COUNTY: The Arc has a vibrant rec program that hosts movie nights, day trips, socials, bingo, dance lessons, karaoke and much more at super reasonable prices. Events are held nearby at the Delaware County Intermediate Unit and other local places. To check out upcoming events, visit thearcofdelco.org. To participate, your child will need to join the Arc for a very modest membership fee (which will serve you and your child in many other ways as well). If you don’t mind the distance of the drive, the Arc of Chester County has a super rec program, too, that you can easily tap into.
AMC MOVIE THEATRE: The Marple AMC Movie Theater in Springfield is one of the four theaters in the Philadelphia area that offers sensory movie nights for guests and their families living with autism and other special needs. Here is what it says on the AMC Marple website: “AMC is proud to partner with the Autism Society to offer unique movie showings where we turn the lights up, and turn the sound down, so you can get up, dance, walk, shout or sing! Our Sensory Friendly Film program is available on the second and fourth Saturday (family-friendly) and Tuesday evenings (mature audiences) of every month.” Call or stop by the theater for a movie schedule. Regal has a similar program, but it looks like theirs aren’t close to us, but rather in Warrington and Oaks.
BRANDYWINE RIVER MUSEUM OF ART: Families are invited for early access to the galleries and a variety of creative activities during PECO Sensory-friendly Saturdays, a free accessible program designed specifically for visitors on the autism spectrum or with sensory processing disorders. Created in conjunction with occupational therapists and local families, this inclusive program strives to provide a welcoming experience through providing pre-visit materials, gallery activities and sensory break areas. For more information, contact Laura Westmoreland at email@example.com or (610) 388-8120.
SKY ZONE: Sky Zone in Glen Mills offers Sensory Hours from 6 to 8 p.m. on Mondays. Sensory Hours are toned down, quieter jumping times for those with special needs. For more information, call (484) 588-6191.
OUR COMMUNITY COFFEE CUP: The Friday night coffeehouse at Princeton Presbyterian Church, 933 Baltimore Pike, Springfield, is a very welcoming place each week from about 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. for those with disabilities. On its fliers, it’s promoted by saying, “We stand in solidarity with everyone and we are a welcoming place for all to attend. We will always stand with those who are different. We are proud of their differences and the value that each one has.” The pay-as-you-can coffeehouse offers a variety of music by live local bands, dinner and dessert. For more information, call Jim Wurster at (610) 246-8939 or stop by Friday night! This summer, Our Community Cup will offer outdoor Saturday night concerts at Princeton Presbyterian May 20, June 17, July 8, Aug. 19 and Sept. 16. For more info, visit ourcommunitycup.com.
OPEN MIC NIGHTS: Temple Lutheran Church, 501 Brookline Blvd., Havertown, hosts Café Bistraud for families and those with special needs 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday nights. Also spearheaded by Jim Wurster, the Open Mic nights offer magic, juggling, poetry, puppets, comedy, dancing, singing and other talents. There’s no entrance fee, but donations are appreciated to cover food and drink. For more information, call (610) 328-3824 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ART-REACH: Art-Reach is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit serving individuals with disabilities and other challenges that may keep them from traditional cultural participation. Since most children and adults with special needs have an access card, they can visit about 31 area museums and places of interest and culture for only $2 and bring along their families or caregivers for support. The list includes Longwood Gardens, The Academy of Natural Sciences, Barnes Foundation, National Constitution Center, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, Mutter Museum and many more. Membership in Art-Reach also offers periodic tickets to concerts and live theater. The low price is extra appreciated, because if the excursion gets to be too much for the person with special needs, you didn’t break the bank if you have to cut the visit there short. For more information and a list of places, visit art-reach.org.
MACDADE BOWL: Beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday mornings at MacDade Bowl, 2105 MacDade Blvd.,Holmes, a special bowling program takes place for kids and adults with autism and intellectual disabilities. Started by local resident Lauren Pescatore, the program offers a safe and nonjudgemental sensory-friendly environment for bowling fun. Since that time, MacDade Bowl has been certified as an Autism Friendly Business. For more information, call (610) 532-9044.
DELCO SPECIAL OLYMPICS: The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community. We are really lucky that Delco has their own Special Olympics teams, everything from powerlifting and floor hockey to bocce ball and softball. For more information and a full schedule of training, visit DelcoSpecialO@comcast.net.
When talking to parents, I discovered a whole host of ideas and places that are accepting and accommodating to those with special needs.
The Philadelphia Zoo’s KidZooU: The Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo & Faris Family Education Center was actually built with the special needs population in mind. Braille, sign language and a picture-exchange communication system for kids with autism are just some of the special features that are incorporated in this special part of the zoo that offers hands-on experiences with animals. And just as a side note, Autism Awareness Day, sponsored by the Autism Society of Greater Philadelphia, will be held at the Philadelphia Zoo from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 9. For more info, email AutismSocietyZooDay@verizon.net.
Sensory-friendly Sundays at the Franklin Institute are geared toward both kids and adults with special needs. Exhibits are modified, and the museum implements quiet spaces. Guests can receive a voucher to “try again” if their visit isn’t successful within the first half hour.
Saint John Chrysostom Parish on Providence Road in Wallingford warmly welcomes children and adults with special needs to a special Mass of Welcoming and Inclusion 11:30 a.m. on the first Sunday of the month. Although those with disabilities are welcome at all Masses, the special Mass of Welcoming and Inclusion contains some modifications for persons with disabilities. The liturgy is shorter, the music and lighting are softer and the Mass is interpreted in American Sign Language. The St. John Parish’s Ministry with Persons with Disabilities is branching out with other activities as well, recently holding a St. Patrick’s Day Dinner With Friends for those with special needs and their families.
The annual Archdiocesan Eucharistic Liturgy for Persons with Disabilities, The Deaf Community, Family, Friends and Caregivers will be celebrated at Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul at 18th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, 10:30 a.m. April 1. Archbishop Charles Chaput, archbishop of Philadelphia, is the principal celebrant and homilist, and a light reception is held following the Mass.
Staying close to home, local parents suggested the Community Arts Center in Wallingford, the area YMCAs, Linvilla Orchards, Scott Arboretum and Tyler Arboretum as special needs-friendly places. Heinz Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum offers volunteer opportunities to those with special needs. The Main Line Art Center, Haverford, hosts weekly Creative Classes for kids, teens and young adults with developmental disabilities where they can experiment with various media and art projects, all while they build cognitive, physical and social skills and Darlington Arts Center in Garnet Valley offers classes and private instruction in the various arts for those with special needs and also has a disabilities program through Elwyn Institute.
Looking for some outdoor play? Primos Elementary School in Upper Darby School District is one of the first schools in the area to build a playground that caters to the sensory needs of children identified as having autism spectrum disorder. Opened last year, the playground is available to the public during non-school hours. Another handicapped accessible park/playground includes Merry Place in Havertown. The park provides parking, shade trees, picnic shelter, fishing pier and includes a tree house accessible for all people.
The CADES Community Playground & Garden in Swarthmore was established in 2007 and is one of the few all-abilities playgrounds in the Delaware Valley. The Playground & Garden features slides and swings adapted for children with disabilities, a basketball area, a vegetable garden, a berry garden and beautiful perennials, herbs and shrubs selected for sensory stimulation as well as for safety. People of all ages and abilities are welcome to the playground during after-school hours of 3:30 p.m. to sunset.
Local Challenger Leagues offer baseball and soccer for those with special needs. For more information, call Betty Berry, Havertown, at (610) 853-4978; Phil Pierce, Ridley Township, at (610) 521-4375; or Jack Malone, Upper Darby at (610) 876-0467.
Since April is Autism Awareness month, Autism Awareness days or nights are offered in April at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, Sesame Place in Langhorne, Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia and Sahara Sam’s Oasis in West Berlin, N.J. The Philadelphia Phillies will team up with Autism Speaks to present Autism Awareness Night at Citizens Bank Park Saturday, April 22, when the Phils take on the Atlanta Braves.
One other great event open to all those with special needs, which no list would be complete without mentioning, is the St. Joseph University’s annual Hand-in-Hand carnival, slated to take place this year from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 22. The wonderful day of fun and friendship was founded to spread awareness, increase interaction and create unity among the St. Joseph’s University community and individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. For more information or to register, email email@example.com. If your son or daughter never went before, they are in for a real treat.
This list is ever-evolving, with new things to add on and not-so-hot places to drop. There are a lot of informal meetups as well. One mother told me a group meets on Friday nights at dinner time in Panera’s, Broomall, and then stays for a “game night.” Another mom said she meets a group of other parents and their adult children for bingo night every Thursday at Divine Providence Village in Marple.
If you have a child with special needs or if you know someone in your family or group of friends who might benefit, I hope you find this compilation of events and opportunities helpful. I want to keep an ongoing list to share, so I would most certainly welcome more additions.
Parents of children with special needs are a bonded group and we always enjoy helping each other out and supporting one another. Please shoot me an email if I overlooked any worthwhile addition to this list or if I can share any more information with you.