Having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) brings new challenges every day. One of the biggest hurdles is finding entertainment for children who can’t handle large crowds, loud noises, and other intense stimuli regularly found in activities offered in public spots.
There’s a big difference between autism and sensory-processing disorders, but an inability to properly process outside stimuli is a symptom for most autistic children. If you’re looking for programs and events that are designed with sensory-processing disorders in mind, Central Michigan has a variety of options.
Sensory-Friendly Stages at The Wharton
Of the many sensory friendly activities in Lansing, MI, theatrical productions at Wharton Center should be at the top of your list. Their new initiative is designed to help children with autism, developmental disabilities, and sensory-processing disorders enjoy some of the same live entertainment as other adolescents.
They’ve created sensory-friendly versions of several popular shows, such as The Lion King. Among the tweaks to conventional shows, they use dimmer lights or keep house lights on, they carefully control audio, and they allow for audience movement as necessary, including the ability to come and go.
At select locations all throughout Michigan, your family can enjoy free sensory-friendly movie showings. And the NCG Eastwood Cinema film festival in Lansing is a great place to start.
All day, films that have been specifically screened to avoid flashing lights or other potentially disturbing imagery are shown. They’re also played at a quieter level and without previews. Theaters that offer these movies allow talking, yelling, crying, or running around during as it plays — creating an inclusive environment for autistic children with varying disability levels.
SierraRose Farms & Healing Hearts with Horses
Just north of Lansing in Dewitt, the SierraRose Farms Healing Hearts with Horses program is created for kids on the autism spectrum in particular. Using the Equine Interactive Therapeutic Learning Programs, trained therapists methodically introduce your children to miniature horses, allowing them to touch, feed, or even ride the animals.
The program helps children experience new things in a stress-free manner. Participants are allowed to move forward at their own speed.
FALCONERS Program at Potter Park Zoo
Similarly, the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing has a program called FALCONERS, designed specifically for autistic children. Once a month, they invite special-needs families for an enriching animal-focused experience, guiding interactions with various specimens throughout the zoo. Once again, autistic children are encouraged to enjoy the event at their own pace.
Sensory Shows at Abrams Planetarium
Check out the wonders of outer space and its astronomical delights with your child through sensory-friendly shows at the Abrams Planetarium in East Lansing the third Sunday of every month. The lights are left on, the sound is turned down, and families are able to enter and exit without interrupting anyone.
There’s also a special place in the lobby where parents can take their kids to help them calm down if the public stimuli becomes too much.
Just an hour east in the Ann Arbor area, My Turn: A Sensory Friendly Sunday is a free event organized through the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. It welcomes all children with autism and sensory sensitivities to enjoy an experience with smaller crowds, interactive art exhibits, and room for kids to run around and explore.
Event partners, including the University of Michigan Museum of Art and Leslie Science and Nature Center, take turns hosting sensory-friendly days with chunks of time that free kids with ASD and their families from the typical hubbub of well-regarded public educational institutions.
Looking for an activity to do with your child that’s even more relaxed, convenient and still beneficial? A recent study from the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City has revealed that taking a dip in a hot tub can improve autism symptoms, particularly in children. Their findings show that increases in body temperature result in greater calm and less discomfort in difficult situations.
You can visit many places with a hot tub in central Michigan, but not all environments will be sensory-friendly. Instead, consider shopping one of the many providers of residential hot tubs & spas throughout the area to bring one home for your family to use.