Sensory-Friendly Chicagoland: Activities and Events for Special Needs

Children with special needs don’t need to miss out on all the special outings. As sensory-friendly events grow more popular, many facilities are adding more times and locations! These events are often limited to a smaller number of guests to help reduce noise and activity, while increasing engagement and the ability for kids to move about. This article is sponsored by Oak Brook Park District. Have you been to their newest playground?! It’s fabulous.

We are all better when we have the opportunity to play together and learn from each other! The Oak Brook Park District works to remove physical, social, and emotional barriers to play and recreation so that people of all ages and abilities have access to exciting opportunities designed to help them be their very best and feel their very best, every single day.

New! The Sandlot-A Universal Playground
Located at 1300 Forest Gate Road, this $1 million playground features equipment designed to increase social and play interaction among people of all ages and abilities. From parents and grandparents that have limited mobility with typically-abled children, to families that have a child with special needs, this incredible park will provide a fun and interactive environment where everyone can experience the benefits of play together.

The Oak Brook Park District also features:

  • Fully Accessible Family Locker Rooms
  • ABC Preschool-We provide a coordinated and progressive program of services that is responsive to the needs of each individual child
  • Inclusive Summer Camp Programs
  • Family Fitness Opportunities

Sensory-Friendly Theater

Chicago Children’s Theatre is committed to serving children with special needs, especially those with autism. Their Red Kite Project includes camps, classes, and performances specifically tailored for kids on the autism spectrum. 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 with fewer lighting effects, softer sounds, a smaller audience, and a more relaxed environment. The audience can talk or leave their seats. Additionally, all attendees can download a social story to help prepare for the performance at home. Find information and buy tickets here.

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Sensory-Friendly Play Places

Airtastic Play Land is a huge indoor bounce play place in Aurora. They host Music-Free Mondays with no background music all day long.

We Rock the Spectrum in Palatine is a gym with specialized equipment for all ability levels to play, learn, and grow. They offer open gym times and classes. There is a host of staff available to help children grow beyond the expectations of their doctors and therapists.

At Sky High Sports Trampoline Park in Naperville, every Tuesday is Special Needs Day. Music is off and distractions are minimized during these sessions. The event runs from 3–6 p.m. and costs $5 per jumper (a parent or therapist can accompany for free). Siblings are also $5.

Pump it Up of Orland Park hosts a Sensory Jump the first Monday of every month from 6:15 pm – 8:15 pm. Space is limited, so make reservations in advance.

Autism Speaks has teamed up with LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Schaumburg to introduce Play Well Days. This event takes place the first Saturday of every months between 8:30 am – 10:00 am. There will be a reduction of lights levels, quiet spaces, a reduced capacity, and earplugs at request. Ticket prices are reduced to $5 for kids.

Color Wheel Playhouse in Hanover Park provides all kinds of play experiences especially for those with special needs.

Sensory-Friendly Museum Play

The third Thursday of every month is Family Night Out at DuPage Children’s Museum from 4:00 – 8:00 pm. More information below!

Fun for the Whole Family at DCM!

DuPage Children’s Museum
301 N Washington Street
Naperville, IL 60540
(630) 637-8000

DuPage Children’s Museum (DCM) is committed to providing an accepting, inclusive environment with unique learning opportunities for ALL children and families who visit. While families with special needs are welcome to visit the Museum anytime, we have several opportunities for families who may need to experience DCM at a quieter time. The Third Thursday of each month from 4:00 – 8:00 p.m. special resources and programming are incorporated for visitors with accessibility issues. Our Family Night Out events provide an evening of play and learning for children with special needs and their families, in a calmer, less crowded environment with some lighting and sound muted, and additional sensory activities and cool-down spaces. Join us!

The Field Museum hosts Sensory Saturdays from 9:00 am – 10:00 am, at its PlayLab on Saturday mornings, with tactile opportunities and sensory tools for kids aged 2–6 years old. They do require you to register beforehand due to limited space. See their accessibility page for more information, or email accessibilityeducator@fieldmuseum.org.

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Play for All at the Chicago Children’s museum is the second Saturday of every month. The museum invites children to experience their multi-sensory exhibits one hour earlier than the public at 9:00 am. Participants must register in advance and space is limited.

Brookfield Zoo is hosting Hamill Family Play Zoo: Sensory-Friendly Mornings the fourth Saturday of every month (except April and September). The play area will open one hour early to registered guests. Registered guests will receive free admission and parking to the zoo that day.

On Monday, May 6, 2019 from 4:30 – 7:30 pm, Shedd Aquarium is offering guests with disabilities time to experience the aquarium in a comfortable and accepting environment. Modifications include limited capacity and streamlined entry with advanced registration. The aquarium has also created a quiet room providing a dedicated space that can be used as a calming room, prayer room or place to privately recharge mobility devices, which is available any day you wish to visit the museum.

Sensory-Friendly Movies

AMC’s Sensory Friendly Films

AMC’s Sensory Friendly Films showings are available at select theatres. They show family-friendly movies on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. Films for mature audiences run the second and fourth Tuesday evenings of each month. 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.

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Participating AMC theatres nearby:

Special Needs Screenings at Studio Movie Grill

Studio Movie Grill locations, including the one in Wheaton, offer Special Needs Screenings at 11 a.m. on two Saturdays each month with family-friendly new releases. You must purchase tickets at the box office.

Reel Movies for Reel Needs Addison

Addison Cinema in Addison hosts a Reel Movies for Real Needs each month. They show one first-run movie each month at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday. See the website for upcoming shows and times.

Hollywood Boulevard Special Needs Screenings

Hollywood Boulevard in Woodridge recently began hosting Special Needs Screenings. Tickets are $6 per person. Keep an eye on their events page for future screenings, too.

Bright Stars Screening at Hollywood Palms

Hollywood Palms in Naperville offers Bright Stars Screenings on the first Wednesday and following Saturday of the month. Tickets are $5 per person. Click here to see the upcoming movie and find a link for tickets.

Lights Up, Sound Down

The Batavia Special-Education Parent Network hosts regular Lights Up Sound Down showings at Goodrich Randall 15 IMAX in Batavia. Check out the BSPN’s Facebook Events page to see upcoming showings.

Reel Movies for Real Needs at Marcus

Marcus Theaters hosts a Reel Movie for Real Needs event monthly. Check the Marcus website for a list of running movies on Saturdays at 10:30 am.

Participating Marcus theatress nearby:

Sensory-Friendly Shopping

Spectrum Toy Store in Chicago is a small toy store specifically for kids with special needs. It was founded by in-home behavioral therapist who saw parents buying special toys online, only to have their kids not be interested. At Spectrum, kids can try out the toys to bring home a winner. The shop also hosts regular events, activities, and workshops.

Inclusive Schools, Classes, and Camps

ABC Preschool in Oak Brook
In cooperation with Butler School District 53 and LADSE (LaGrange Area Department of Special Education), we are able to provide a coordinated and progressive program of services that is responsive to the needs of each individual child. We are proud to feature an inclusive program where children with special needs learn alongside their peers. Specialized services are provided through an integrated model, which is beneficial to the development of all students. There are no residency requirements for Oak Brook Park District’s preschool program.

Inclusive Programs and Summer Camps
Oak Brook Park District works with Gateway Special Recreation to provide inclusive services for families requiring special accommodations. Contact Karen Spandikow at (630-) 645-589 or kspandikow@obparks.org for more information regarding inclusion services. 

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 annie@mykidlist.com. As always, you will find more fun things to do with kids here on Kidlist.

About the Author

Jill Kowalski
Jill is the mom of two energetic little girls, ages two and four, who keep her seriously busy. She and her husband grew up in Orland Park and are now raising their family there as well. When Jill and her family have free time, they love to check out local parks or drop-in at fests where their girls can take over a dance floor. She is always looking for cheap, yet entertaining and worthwhile things to do. When she is not wrangling her kids, Jill has a passion for starting, and sometimes finishing, do-it-yourself home improvement projects, trying out random recipes she finds on Pinterest, and organizing every nook and cranny of her life.

2 Comments on "Sensory-Friendly Chicagoland: Activities and Events for Special Needs"

  1. Thank you!!!!

  2. Stephan Bilski | June 16, 2019 at 9:01 am | Reply

    Thanks to all who are responsible for making places more accessible to special friends.

    The problem my son and I are having is we love concerts! My son uses a wheelchair and he can’t stand. We need the wheelchair section. We have been to more than 100 concerts all over the country. And venues think they provide a section for wheelchairs that it’s just ok to be in the building. But when the concert starts, everyone stands and blocks our view. Sometimes they stand for the entire show. It is very frustrating to see my son sit while everyone is standing and watching the act. And some people use the handicap section with canes and stand during the entire show. (New Jersey is the only place that requires proof of disability to purchase a ticket in the wheelchair section)
    I would love to see these venues create a section where the people who sit in front of the wheelchair section, are forbidden to stand during the show and they know in advance they can not stand during the show.
    Thank You Stephan Bilski Oak Lawn Illinois

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