20 places children with special needs can play, learn and explore.

family photoIn honor of Autism Awareness Month and one of my favorite people on the planet I thought appropriate to round-up some of the great places in the Hudson Valley children with special needs and their families can play, learn and explore. The gorgeous man with me in the photo to the left is my uncle, he has Down Syndrome. When he was young there were so few opportunities for children with special needs. Actually at his age, it wasn’t uncommon for most children to be institutionalized. It wasn’t understood or accepted and it was always a struggle. Friends weren’t an option let alone ice skating, music classes, painting, sports, etc. He was picked on and spent a lot of time alone outside or inside with the television. Fast forward 50 years and while as a society we are still learning and adapting to those with special needs we are seeing many more resources, programs and inclusion for all kids. (Heck he has more of a social life now than I do!) When I started this post I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to even find 10 local places, let alone 20! I am so pleasantly surprised and humbled by the amount of opportunities in our own area. So here ya go… In honor of every family in the Hudson Valley waiting to be included, to learn a new talent or foster a passion, there is a place for you!

Read More: 10 tips for play dates with kids of all abilities.

1. Bounce Poughkeepsie– Children with special needs and their caregivers can jump for $10 for the first hour and $5 for the second hour on the first Monday of every month. Call ahead for reservations and immediate family members are welcome to bounce too! Poughkeepsie, 845-206-4555.

2. Sensory Friendly Films– This monthly program brings favorite films to families with kids who have Autism (and I would imagine other special needs are fine too). The theater keeps the lights on, the sound down and kids are encouraged to get up and dance, sing, shout and move throughout the theater. A very cool way the whole family can enjoy time at the movies! Check the site for upcoming movies and dates. Looks like they are play Mall Cop 2 on April 25th and Tomorrowland on May 30th. Middletown, 845-695-1724.

3. Miss Claire’s Musical Cupboard A musical paradise for special needs children. Miss Claire’s offers Zylofone Performing Arts, a program specially designed for special needs as well as Baby Signing Time, teaching basic sign language through music. If you aren’t familiar with baby signing time, check it out! My boys started signing around 6 months thanks to Signing Time and we have been hooked ever since! Other programs include, Kindermusik, Rhythmic Arts, Music, Movement and Drums and Yoga. Montgomery,845-522-9652.

4. Winslow Riding Academy– Therapeutic horseback riding helps children and adults with disabilities improve their physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills. At Winslow Riding Academy, there are specific programs to help meet the needs of individuals whether they have a disability or not. A few of the programs offered include, Therapeutic Riding, Hippotheraphy, Horses for Heroes and group or private riding lessons. Warwick, 845-986-6686. Another popular therapeutic riding farm is Hidden Hollow Farms.

5. Camp Huntington– A special camp for special campers. Camp Huntington offers week-long and weekend camps that focus on building independence, team work and bring out hidden talents and abilities. Activities include swimming, music, sports, drama, crafts, cooking, gardening and much more! High Falls, 845-687-7840.

6. Kelder’s Farm– Most farms are wonderful for kids with special needs. The entire family can enjoy seasonal berry picking, farm animals and running free. Though not open year round, Kelder’s Farm is a wonderful place for children with special needs and their families. Activities include a giant air pillow, barnyard zoo, corn maze and seasonal berry and apple picking. Kerhonkson, 845-626-7137.

See More: U-pick orchards in the Hudson Valley

7. Bard Collage Pool– For children with Autism and other special needs, we know how important sensory input is for a balanced day. Many kids love swimming or the water. I found that for only $10 (drop-in) for the day you can use the pool during their open swim times at Bard Collage!

8. Mid- Hudson Children’s Museum– The museum has been making many improvements over the last year. We love the new two-story fire truck, and the new Wonder Dome, great for kids with special needs. This space is a great place for sensory and therapeutic play and exploration and used by both parents and therapists. The space includes a light waterfall, a tactile curtain, and exploration of light, color, shadows and depths. A wonderful sensory experience. Take a peek too at the events calendar, April 17th the museum is showcasing the Wonder Dome with a guided play experience teaching families new ways to play with a focus on sensory learning and color. Poughkeepsie, 845-471-0589.

9. Poets Walk– There are so many beautiful parks and landscapes in our area I am always struggling to pull out one or two to highlight in these round- up posts! I chose to highlight Poets Walk for a special needs post because of the different type of landscapes to explore, the quietness and overall atmosphere of this park. Red Hook.

10. Winslow Riding Academy– Therapeutic horseback riding helps children and adults with disabilities improve their physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills. At Winslow Riding Academy, there are specific programs to help meet the needs of individual whether they have a disability or not. A few of the programs offered include, Therapeutic Riding, Hippotherapy, Horses for Heroes and group or private riding lessons. Warwick, 845-986-6686. Another popular therapeutic riding farm is Hidden Hollow Farms.

11. Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary– A place where animals roam free, plenty of education, cuddling and playing. The Animal Sanctuary is a wonderful place most kids with special needs (especially those who love animals) will love to spend their time. The staff are caring and warm and the place is always growing and changing. (In fact, when researching, it looks like they are moving to a bigger and better space! The photos on their site look wonderful for completion but unfortunately they are closed to the public right now).

12. Orange County Sports Club– A special Needs Adaptive Play (SNAP) class for kids interested in gymnastics and movement. The class is 45 minutes and there are many other classes from mommy and me up through pre-teen and more so the whole family can play at the same club! Florida, 845-651-1000.

13. Lagrange Challenger Bowling Club– Doing some research and I found quite a few towns that offer adaptive sports programs for children and adults with physical or developmental special needs. Lagrange bowling club was just one example that provides a fun, supportive, non judgmental environment that promotes self- esteem and socialization. Check and see if there is something similar near you.

14. Mid-Hudson Music Together– It’s tough parenting siblings when one has a disability and one doesn’t. Finding classes and things the kids can do at the same time can be a challenge so I love that Mid Hudson Music Together offers a Supportive Family class! The idea is that both children with and without developmental special needs can play and learn from each other. They also offer individual and group music therapy.

See More: 10 Hudson Valley places the whole family can enjoy.

15. Therapeutic Ice Skating at the Civic Center– What a great idea! Children with disabilities can truly accomplish anything with a little flexibility! The Mid Hudson Civic Center has designed a program that teaches children of all abilities how to ice skate. They also offer an open skating session for families of children with disabilities for $5 including skate rental! Open skate is on Sundays from 12:15-1pm. Poughkeepsie, 845-454-5800 x 1205.

16. Sensory Friendly Films– This monthly program brings favorite films to families with kids who have Autism (and I would imagine other special needs are fine too) The theater keeps the lights on, the sound down and kids are encouraged to get up and dance, sing, shout and move throughout the film. A very cool way the whole family can enjoy time at the movies! Check the site for upcoming movies and dates. Looks like they are play Mall Cop 2 on April 25th and Tomorrowland on May 30th. Middletown, 845-695-1724.

17. The Ashokan Center– Camp Whirligig is a music and dance camp especially for families living with Autism. Activities include dancing, music, swimming, games and more. Registration opens soon,check the site for more info. Olivebridge, 845-657-8333.

Read more: Are specialty camps the best option for kids with special needs.

18. Art Fun for Kids–  If art is more your child’s interest, Jerry from ARC is teaching kids of all ages how to draw, paint, cut and paste with special programs including art therapy, to special needs classes and art parties. These classes combine art education and learning the basics with a child centered art therapy approach. Kingston, 845-331-2662.

19. NatureAccess® program– This special outdoor program promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in outdoor nature programs. In order to make participation in these programs as smoothly as possible, call ahead to make arrangements and specially trained staff will be there to assist you. This program is open to class trips, summer camp, public programs, outreach visits and group visits.

20. WeeZee World– Not quite within the Hudson Valley Region but this place looks too awesome to not include. A sensory playground for children of all sensory needs. The various areas of the facility incorporate each of the senses including a cafe, a rain room, creation station, an oxygen bar, bubble station, half-pipe and so much more. You have to fill out a sensory survey and contact membership for admission information but this place looks seriously amazing, I will be calling first thing in the morning! Chappaqua (Westchester County), 914-752-2100. (Upon further research it doesn’t look like the type of place you can drop in and play but if you are interested give them a call anyway).

Read more: How to handle the stress and anxiety of a child with Autism.

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