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12 fun activities for special needs families

12 Neurodiversity-friendly activities to try with your family

Updated: August 11, 2023 · 3 Minute Read

Marissa Pittard

Reviewed by:

Marissa Pittard

Highlights

  • It can be easy to forget to make time for the fun of being a family.
  • Check out our list of ideas for how you and your family can take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

With the busyness of therapies, specialist appointments, IEP meetings, and everything else that comes with raising a child with a developmental difference, it can be easy to forget that your family is still a family. Spending quality time together is important for everyone in your family. Here are some fun neurodiversity-friendly activity ideas that can be tailored to your family’s unique needs.

 

1. Visit a fire station. 

Most fire stations will arrange tours for kids if you call ahead! If you’ve got a kiddo who’s into fire trucks and emergency vehicles, they’ll be delighted by a close-up look at the fire station.

 

2. Have a “movie night” together. 

AMC, Regal Cinemas, and many local theaters have sensory-friendly showings! If theaters aren’t your style, try creating a movie night at home using your TV or a projector + favorite treats and snacks.

 

3. Go on a family walk or bike ride. 

For kids that are prone to elopement (running away), try a stroller or wagon, and stick to paved paths.

 

4. Hit the park or playground. 

Your local park or playground is a great option for burning off energy. Don’t forget to let out your inner kid and join in the fun! Fenced-in playgrounds or indoor playplaces reduce stress for parents of kids who tend to wander.

 

5. Try family game night. 

If your child struggles with games, you can create your own! Something as simple as trying to draw pictures of each other can be really fun. Charades or backyard games (like cornhole) are great for people who struggle with fine motor skills. Trivia and word games can be fun for bookworms and fact-checkers.

 

6. Get in the kitchen together. 

Try making a meal together. Something like pizza, which you can prepare and lay out the ingredients for beforehand, tends to work best. Personalizing and being involved in cooking their food can help picky eaters try new things. Don’t worry about the mess – it’s all part of the fun!

 

7. Go stargazing or cloud watching. 

This classic kid activity is still good fun. Spread out in your backyard or porch and enjoy the skies. Try to name what shapes you see in the clouds, or what constellations you can spot. Pro tip: use an inflatable pool filled with blankets and pillows as a comfy viewing spot. Glow sticks optional, but encouraged!

 

8. Spend a day at the planetarium, aquarium, or zoo.

If there’s a planetarium, aquarium, or zoo in your area, plan a day trip! Many of these educational and fun experiences offer events or sensory-friendly nights for kids with neurodevelopmental differences, like autism. Some are even Certified Autism Centers! Check their calendar or call ahead to see what accommodations are available for your family.

 

9. Volunteer together for a cause your family cares about.

Whether your family is passionate about recycling, feeding the homeless, animal welfare, or community gardening, there are so many ways you can lend your time to make a difference. Volunteering is great for helping kids learn responsibility, and it’s a way to practice gratitude as a family. Find an organization you want to support and contact them in advance to discuss volunteer opportunities for your family. 

 

Can’t find a cause locally you want to support? Try starting a fundraiser (like a lemonade stand) for a non-profit your family likes, or making your own efforts to tackle issues in your community. For example, your local nursing home would probably appreciate a visit or flower donation!

 

10. Visit a children’s museum or immersive science center.

Make use of the nearest kid-friendly museum. Many museums offer sensory-friendly tours or accommodations (like headsets and sensory rooms). At a children’s museum or exploratory science museum, your curious kiddos will be allowed to touch all the things. Check out the museum’s schedule of events too – most offer craft projects, themed activities, hands-on science experiments, and sometimes even date nights so parents can have a break!

 

11. Check out your local library.

Many libraries offer crafts, book clubs, games, classes, story time, even music programming. Don’t worry about your kiddos being too loud – there’s plenty of cool librarians nowadays. Pro tip: local libraries are usually part of a larger county and statewide system. If the one closest to your home doesn’t have any exciting programs, try one in the next city or county over. Whatever library you choose, they’ll be happy to have you – just call ahead and let them know you’ve got a child with developmental differences.

 

12. Go for a long drive. 

For kiddos who find comfort in car rides, a drive through the country or just exploring your city can be a relaxing way to spend time together. Pro tip: be sure to pack emergency snacks, changes of clothes, toys, and charge their tablet beforehand. It’s best to be prepared for surprise blowouts, getting lost, or spontaneous puddle jumps. For more travel tips, check out our full guide.