Play is for everyone! It provides us the opportunity to enhance our senses, develop emotional responses, and build social interaction. This list highlights indoor and outdoor activities and events that support play for children of all abilities.
Our round-up includes sensory friendly times at kids’ destinations, easy-to-exit programming, picture communication boards, and designated quiet spaces for families experiencing overstimulation or dysregulation. To encourage a limited crowd and more space to explore, many of these places offer special times before or after hours for families to play and engage.
Check out this list of theaters, museums, playgrounds and more that feature sensory regulated programming and resources to consider when planning your next adventure. What are you waiting for? Let’s go play!
Sensory-Friendly Chicagoland: Activities and Events for Kids with Special Needs
Chicago Children’s Theatre offers a variety of programming through their Red Kite Project. This series includes productions and special events crafted specifically for children on the autism spectrum. They also offer camps, classes, and residencies for participants to experience self-discovery and learn more about the arts. See their sensory-friendly performance page for upcoming shows and pre-visit resources, including sensory guidance and social stories.
Filament Theatre in Chicago offers sensory-friendly performances. These include lower sounds, lighting, and limited strobes and sudden noises. The audience is always free to move about, make noise, and leave their seats. Before arrival, attendees are encouraged to download a “social story” to prepare for the performance at home. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.
The Goodman Theatre in Chicago offers sensory-friendly performances. There are fewer sounds and lighting effects, as well as a more relaxed environment where guests can move freely. Designated quiet areas are available and they also offer sensory bags upon request that include noise cancelling headphones, fidgets, and a social story.
The sensory-friendly performance of Blue Man Group is on September 24, 2023 at 4pm. Slight modifications will be made to the performance at the Briar Street Theatre in order to create a sensory-friendly show that better accommodates individuals and families affected by autism. As part of the audience offerings for the sensory-friendly performance, the Briar Street Theatre will be transformed into a calming environment complete with bean bags, dim lighting and quiet corners for anyone seeking a sensory break from the excitement of the show.
Sensory-Friendly Play Places and Attractions
We Rock the Spectrum in Franklin Park is a gym with specialized sensory equipment and experiences for all ability levels to explore and learn in a safe environment. The gym includes swings, zip lines, trampolines, craft area, and more. Each child must be accompanied by an adult. Daily bookings are available by appointment only. Check Facebook or call for availability.
Morton Arboretum Children’s Garden is the perfect backdrop for calming, imaginative play. Children can play, climb, and slide in an area designed just for them. The majority of the gardens are on paved grounds and accessible for all. Please note, some areas are accessible only by rope, ladder, or stairs. Guests with sensory processing disabilities may borrow sensory bags, maps, proprioceptive activity boards, or choice boards. Please visit the accessibility page to learn more.
Sloomoo Institute is a one of a kind, interactive experience where you can immerse yourself in a world full of slime! Sloomoo prides itself on inclusivity through sensory play. By incorporating bright colors, textures, and smells, guests will leave with slime and a smile. Sensory hours offered with limited capacity and a calmer environment. For tickets and more details, click here.
At Sky High Sports Trampoline Park in Niles, every Tuesday is Special Needs Day. Music is off and distractions are low and crowds are minimal. The event runs from 4–6 pm and costs $5 for each participant (a parent or therapist can accompany for free).
The outdoor Sensory Garden Playground in Lisle is for children of all ability levels. It features numerous play areas, an accessible treehouse, gravity rail, swings, a sound garden, and more additions to come in the near future. This playground helps promote relaxation, encourage creative movement, and provides stimulation for all the senses. Check out a previous article highlighting the latest features at The Sensory Garden Playground.
Chuck E. Cheese has special Sensory Sensitive Sundays, at participating locations throughout Illinois. They open two hours early on the first Sunday of the month. This timing provides families a quieter, less-stimulating experience throughout the dining area and arcade. In Illinois the participating sites include Streamwood, Arlington Heights, Gurnee, and Crystal Lake.
If you are considering an option that allows you to have a more private experience or with a smaller group of friends, this could be ideal for you. Click here to discover more indoor play areas offering private rentals at reasonable rates!
Sensory-Friendly Museum Play
The DuPage Children’s Museum offers modified museum experience for families with disabilities, who are on the autism spectrum, and/ or have sensory processing disabilities. Attendance is limited to create smaller groups, so pre-registration is required. Adaptive play times provide attendees with noise reduction headphones, fidget objects, weighted neck wraps, timers, and social stories. Admission is $17/ child or adult, $16/senior, and free for children under one and museum members.
At The Field Museum, download the iOS or Android Field for All app on when planning your visit to see exhibit previews, create customizable schedules, and view a sensory-friendly museum map. During your visit, they can also provide sensory bags and guided tours (based upon volunteer availability). For more details about tickets, mobility, and additional accommodations visit their accessibility page.
The Chicago Children’s Museum‘s Play for All program allows children to experience their multi-sensory exhibits one hour before opening. All participants must register in advance as space is limited. Be sure to check their website for updates on upcoming events. Chicago Children’s Museum also offers a calming corner on the third floor that is accessible daily.
Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Play Zoo offers a sensory room where families can visit to have some quiet time. It features dimmed lighting, comfortable seating, and a variety of fidgets. BZ Care Kits are available at the North and South Guest Relations that contain noise-reducing headphones, name tags, and if lost ID bracelets and stickers. Sign language interpreters are available upon request (at least fourteen days in advance) for public programs and classes. Find out more about their accessible amenities before your visit.
The Shedd Aquarium has a quiet room located in the Northern Trust Suite that can be used as a calming room, prayer room, or place to privately recharge mobility devices. If you plan to attend any animal spotlights, these are low sensory experiences where guests can step out if needed. Visit the accessibility page for more information on requesting a sign language interpreter, how to download the sensory-friendly app, resources for deaf or hard of hearing, and those who are blind or have low vision. You will also find details here about parking, accessibility, and locations designated for you to access noise reducing headphones.
Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art offers a free sensory-friendly programs for visitors of all ages. However, admission is free for those eighteen and under. You must register in advance and this is the perfect opportunity to explore the museum before it opens to the public. Be sure to continue their website for more updates on sensory-friendly programming and details about accessibility at MCA.
The Children’s Museum of Oak Lawn offers sensory friendly play sessions for children the second Wednesday of every month from 5:00pm to 7:00pm. The price to participate is $3 for adults and children twelve months and older. This experience provides space to move and play, dimmed lighting, and limited noise. Click to learn more or register.
Kohl Children’s Museum‘s special events called “Everyone Can Play” are free events that are hosted throughout the year and require pre-registration. This event is for all children and families who would like calm, creative and collaborative play. The museum collaborates with community groups and organizations to provide children and families with special needs the ability to experience the museum after it closes to the general public.
Check out our list of inclusive playgrounds in Chicago’s west suburbs to find playgrounds with features such as double-wide ramps, wheelchair swings, communication boards, and more.
Sensory-Friendly Sports and Water Activities
Swanson Pool’s Sensory Cove is a free program offering one-on-one swim classes by specially trained swim instructors for children ages 5–12 on the autism spectrum. During swim lessons, the number of attendees is limited and there are minimal in-water distractions. This program is free, sponsored by the For Scout Foundation. This program located in St. Charles is on Sundays. You must register in advance.
iFly gives participants a chance to experience inclusive, limitless opportunities to “spread their wings” and soar to new heights regardless of ability. Those who experience both physical and cognitive challenges can participate in indoor skydiving, with specific accommodations available. Visit their website to request more information about All Abilities Nights held at specific locations.
Family-Friendly Movie Showtimes for Families with Special Needs
AMC’s Sensory Friendly Films
AMC’s Sensory Friendly Films showings are featured at select theaters across Illinois. They are proud to partner with the Autism Society to show family-friendly movies on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. Please note, films for mature audiences run on Wednesday evenings. Visit the Sensory Friendly Films page on the AMC website to see upcoming movies. It can be tricky to order these tickets online, so we recommend calling the theater to make sure you’re getting the right screening.
Participating AMC theatres nearby:
- Showplace Naperville 16
- Yorktown 18
- River East 21
- Showplace Galewood 14
- Lake In The Hills 12
- Northbrook Court 14
- Showplace New Lenox 14
- Showplace Niles 12
- Showplace Village Crossing 18
Special Needs Screenings at Studio Movie Grill
Located in Wheaton, Studio Movie Grill offers Special Needs Screenings with family-friendly new releases. Guests will experience movies with the lights on and the sound lowered. Please plan accordingly and call ahead to find out specific showtimes. Tickets for Special Needs Screenings are sold only at the box office.
Reel Movies for Reel Needs Marcus
Marcus Theaters hosts a Reel Movie for Real Needs event monthly. This is an opportunity for families to experience family-friendly movies with an emphasis on creating a comfortable environment for families with special needs. Check the Marcus website for a list of running movies on Saturdays at 10:30 am. Assisted listening devices are also provided upon request.
Participating Marcus theaters nearby:
Hollywood Boulevard Special Needs Screenings
Bright Stars Screening at Hollywood Palms
If you know of another program, activity, school, class, camp, or event for kids with special needs, please let us know! You can comment below or email Annie at email@example.com. For more ideas, find all our indoor activities to do with kids here on Kidlist.