Getting Out and About with Your Special Needs Child

July 6, 2012

{Editor’s Note:  Below are some great spots for Texans, but Marty has some fantastic tips for getting out and about, no matter where you live!}

Getting out and about with a child that has special health care needs can be a challenge. There are two great parks that we love to visit:  Morgan’s Wonderland in North San Antonio and the new Play for All park in Round Rock.  Both of these parks were designed to be fully accessible.  Morgan’s is bigger and offers indoor and outdoor activities (as well as rides) where Round Rock is a little smaller, all outdoors but close to home.  I highly recommend either of these parks for anyone that has to deal with wheelchairs, equipment, etc.

There are lots of larger amusement parks in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston (and surrounding areas).  Amusement parks can be a lot of fun, but they are not always great for kids with special needs.  The crowds, noise and heat being outside can do a number on a child with sensory issues.  Anyone that has a child larger than a baby but still in diapers, the diaper changing options in areas like these can be a nightmare.  Most parks have one (sometimes two) family restrooms.  These are the only facilities in the park with large enough spaces to change a larger child’s diaper (by larger I mean anyone over 20 pounds).  If you want to attempt the amusement park I would strongly suggest calling ahead.  Let them know when you are coming, and what your needs are.  They can help to find a time that may be less crowded, and can help you determine if it will be worth the trip.  Be sure to get a map online to know where all of the facilities (whether you need changing areas or just a place to get out of the chaos) are located.

Calling ahead to dine out with your special needs child can make a huge difference on your overall experience.  Even places that don’t take reservations are happy to get the call.  We need a quiet table with full access for an oversized wheelchair.  They are able to set this up while we are in transit.  This saves them from having to scramble during a rush, or while our child is having a melt down at the hostess station.  We usually try to avoid rush times, as well.

There are a lot of activities around Austin that do a great job of including ALL kids.  Story times at your local libraries and bookstores are a great way to spend some time.  Homemade pottery places like Café Monet are great, although they can be a bit pricey.  If you like arts and crafts you can always check out Lakeshore Learning Centers as well.  Each Saturday from 11-3 Lakeshore has free crafts for the kids.  Each week is a different craft and they try to try the craft into the time of year.  If you want something a little more hands on, Home Depot has great free workshops for kids on the first Saturday of each month.

The Austin Children’s Museum (or your local museum) is another great way to spend a day; although, it is not the most accessible.  They are building a new museum that will have on-site parking and will be much easier for our kids with special needs.  As of right now you have to deal with downtown parking.  Once you are in the museum it is easy to get around (they have elevators and wide walkways).  We are really careful to plan our trips when the crowds are expected to be the smallest.  If noise and crowds are an issue for you as well, you may want to call ahead and find out the best time to visit.

There are many Farmer’s Markets around town.  Farmer’s Markets offer great fresh food, but they offer much more.  Most Farmer’s Markets will have some sort of street entertainers (jugglers, dancers, music, etc.)  Sometimes there will be petting zoos, clowns, face painters and other kid friendly activities.  We like to try to go early in the morning before it gets hot and while the food selection is better.  Since Farmer’s Markets are held in streets or other open areas they are typically very easy to get around.

Austin has a lot of summer activities.  This can range from things like movies in the park (or pool), live music concerts (free in the park), Children’s Day Art Park, and so many other great (free or very affordable) kid friendly activities.  Many of these are in the park or other areas not know for being super accessible.  You can get to them, but it may require some walking, and the walking may be off the beaten path.   Some of these activities draw large crowds as well, and with it, noise.

Austin, San Antonio and Houston all have zoos.  The Austin Zoo is the smallest and does not have as many animals as the others.  If you do visit the zoo, go early in the morning.  The animals are most active before it gets hot (and it’s not so hot for you).  There is nothing worse than going out in the heat of the day to see animals and find they are sleeping away out of sight.

Austin is also home to many hike and bike trails.  Some of the trails are very easy to navigate, even with medical equipment. I suggest walking the trail without your kids to see, firsthand, what you are getting into.  You really know your child’s abilities better than anyone else and would be the best judge of the trail’s ability level.

There are many ways to keep cool in Austin.  There are public pools all over town and there are dozens of splash pads.  There are also lots of great swimming holes.  Some of the swimming holes do require a hike.  Again, go ahead and see if you think your child is up for it before taking him/her out.

For a complete list of trails, splash pads, swimming holes, outdoor movies and music, and much more please visit CLU Campaign.  They have a tool called ‘Things to do with Kids’.  In addition to more details on all of the items above, this tool also talks about things to do at home, out and about in any city, and notes from other special needs families.  CLU always welcomes your input and provides an easy to use for there on the site.  You can easily submit your own activity and/or comment on those that are listed.