Because Summer Is Complicated Enough

When a young adult with a developmental disability starts to outgrow the kiddie swing or slide at the neighborhood park, family fun might require a bit more creativity.

As the summer season approaches, many little ones are about to be on a break from the structured activities of schools and day programs. When you have a child or young adult with special needs, finding appropriate activities that the entire family can enjoy can be a challenge. Here’s a guide to finding fun and accessible activities for families with children and young adults with developmental and cognitive disabilities.

When it comes to child-oriented activities for family outings, I’m continually scoping out fun settings for inclusive field trips. Key components to consider when selecting potential places are the child’s environmental preferences, level of mobility, and desire to enjoy and engage with the activity.

Amusement Parks

By far, one of the most impressive inclusion-based attraction I have yet seen remains Morgan’s Wonderland (San Antonio, TX). The theme park offers events and attractions for guests of “all ages and abilities”, featuring a train ride, wheelchair accessible playground, and sensory room. A highlight of visiting the park is seeing the many individuals they employ with special abilities.

A jam session inside of Morgan’s Wonderland, the only fully accessible theme park in the country. It was heartwarming to see a park designed to give children with disabilities a fun experience. (Instagram, 3/15/15)

If you’re looking for something more local (unless you live in Texas), county youth fairs may also be a good option! Check to see if they have student discounts or offer special days for exceptional students. I recently had the chance to take children with different mobility and cognitive levels on a field trip to a local fair, and the specific measures I took to ensuring their safety included helping them negotiate different surfaces, ramps, and the platform to board the attraction, ensuring they were securely strapped in, and sitting/standing next to them for the more extreme rides!

With larger theme parks, height and weight requirements may limit adults with disabilities from riding on certain rides on their own. However, most rides designed for children require an adult to be present and therefore are likely to be a good fit physically for the individual.

Trampoline Parks

This one makes it to the top of my brother’s personal favorites list! For children who love seeking out sensory experiences, trampoline parks offer fun and safe opportunities for them to thrive. Children who tend to be more rambunctious, have hearing impairments, or exhibit self-stimulation behaviors (like rocking back and forth or sideways) may really enjoy the excitement that comes with jumping up and down all day!

Sit Back and Enjoy the Show

Children who demonstrate sensory-avoidance may have a harder time enjoying high contact and disorienting activities. While it’s important to gradually acclimate them to sensations therapeutically, these individuals might enjoy entertainment activities where they can sit down and enjoy a show. Check out local libraries and theater clubs for puppet shows, book readings, and concerts that can engage their imagination without overwhelming them.

Inclusion-based Sports Leagues

While screening local athletes for Special Olympics during a FUNfitness session, I developed a deeper appreciation for what this organization is able to accomplish. If you haven’t heard of it, the Special Olympics is a global nonprofit organization that prioritizes inclusion in sports, health, and leadership. Check with your local branch for any upcoming activities or opportunities!

Adaptive Activities

See if there are adaptive activities available for individuals locally. Music lessons, therapeutic horse riding, or adaptive swimming lessons may offer your child a way to experience the same fun activities as typically-developing children within a format designed to be accessible.

More Fun Ideas!

Little bowlers who might not have the strength or coordination to handle the bowling ball can still join in on the fun!

Don’t shy away from your day to day activities. Bowling, tram rides, boat tours, water parks and local charity walks are all favorable options for a general good time. Planning for family outings while considering the needs of a child or adult with a delay or disability usually requires an extra layer of consideration. Feel free to call ahead if specific accommodations might be needed or to ask questions to ensure that everyone has the best time possible!

Safety is Security.

The trampoline park remains one of my brother’s favorite recreational spots, but since children with Down syndrome tend to have ligamentous laxity, he is under constant supervision during this and tumbling activities to ensure his joints are safe. 

If the child you are planning for has difficulty understanding and performing new tasks and body movements, take caution with activities that might be unsafe for them like ice skating or obstacle courses. Also, for marine activities ensure proper safety measures are in place, even if they are able to swim. Be mindful of other specific complications that might affect the child’s safety during specific activities, such as metabolic and musculoskeletal conditions. If your child tends to elope or be distracted easily, consider using an identification bracelet with your contact information on it as an additional precaution.

Feel free to Leave a Reply with more ideas, questions, or concerns below! Happy Summer!

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