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Spend Your St. Louis Summer Doing Some Sensory-Friendly Activities

There are so many activities and events that fill the days of Summer, but what if your child needs an event with a sensory-friendly approach? We asked our friend Stephanie Shyken at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in St. Louis to name a few of her local favorites. Even if you don’t live here in St. Louis, you may be able to find something similar in your city!

Summer is finally here! With school out for a while, your kids probably have a lot of time on their hands. Luckily, there are lots of fun and sensory-friendly activities going on throughout the season. Here’s just a few I’ve come up with to help fill your days with summertime joy.

Pizza and Games at Chuck E. Cheese’s Sensory Sunday

The Center for Autism and Related Disorders partners with Chuck E. Cheese the first Sunday of every month and opens its doors 2 hours early for Sensory Sunday. During this time, Chuck E. Cheese reduces the lighting and noises from the games. This is meant to be a judgmental free zone! The current location that offers this is: 720 S. COUNTY CENTERWAY, ST LOUIS, MO 63129. Come join us one Sunday!

Sensory-Friendly Storytelling at the St. Louis Public Library

Sensory Story Time is a free program for kids ages 3 to 9. During the story telling, they uses props, toys, and objects to learn in multiple formats! The St. Louis Libraries offer noise cancelling head phones to reduce the volume and cover up the florescent lights. The Weber Road Branch has story telling the 2nd and 4th Monday of the month at 6:30pm. Prairie Commons Branch hosts this the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month at 6:30pm. Finally, the Daniel Boone Branch hosts the 1st and 3rd Thursday at 6:30 starting in July 2018.

Share Some Popcorn at a Sensory-Friendly Movie

Who doesn’t love to relax and watch a movie?! The AMC Classic Creve Coeur 12 offers sensory friendly movie times. During the movie the lights will be turned on and the sound will be lowered. Families will not be judged for anyone getting up and walking around, dancing, shouting, or singing! The program is offered the second and fourth Saturday and Tuesday evenings every month. The movies this month are The Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 and Show Dogs.

Enjoy Sensory Saturdays at the St. Louis Zoo

Finally, the St. Louis Zoo is my favorite part of summer! The second Saturday of every month the St. Louis Zoo offers a sensory break area with fidgets, pillows and other accommodations. Zoo staff members have been trained in order to work with kids with special needs. Admission does cost to enter, for more information about Sensory Saturdays, email, call (314) 646-4730.

These are just four activities to look forward to. Lots of other attractions, parks, and community centers off sensory-friendly events, so take some time to check with those place online or with a phone call. No matter what you do, have a great summer!

Stephanie Shyken is a Clinical Supervisor with The Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD). Founded in 1990, CARD is the largest ABA provider nationwide with nearly 200 centers in 32 states. Here in St. Louis, CARD works as an in-home ABA provider, working hard to help the local community find and receive essential resources and services. CARD also operates a center just across the river in O’Fallon, Illinois.   One of Stephanie favorite things about working with  CARD is that they do not have a waitlist, allowing for clients to receive services, after completing the paperwork process, within a timely manner. For more information about CARD, visit or call 636-438-0360.

Getting Sensory Sensitive Kids Ready for Swimming

Nothing says “Summer” like swimming and splashing at the beach, lake, or pool. The season’s water activities provide a great way to engage the senses and get muscles moving, but it can also be an overwhelming and dangerous time for individuals with special needs and sensory processing difficulties. Whether you’re planning to introduce your child to the local splash pad or planning a trip to a public swimming area, here are a few tips to ensure everyone has a great time.

Water and Environmental Acclimation

First things first: make sure your child can handle all the sights, sounds, and other sensations of public swimming areas. Take some time to familiarize the child with the new sensations they’ll encounter on your swimming outing. Getting them used to textures like hot concrete, warm sand, or sunscreen, as well as the feeling of wet swimsuits, goggles, earplugs and life preservers can help lower the chances of sensory overload. A little time with a sensory tub and a garden hose sprinkler in the backyard can go a long way toward preparing your child for what is to come.

Social stories also play a big part in preparing a child for the rules and behaviors associated with public swimming areas. By reading through a small swimming adventure several times before their visit, children will have a better idea what to expect, which could help reduce some fear and anxiety. You can find several online or try out one of our favorites here.

Finding a Swim Program

Training a child with special needs to be safe around the water is an essential step in protecting them from harm whether they’ll be swimming every day or only a few times a year. It also takes quite a bit of extra care and consideration on the put of the instructor.

Thankfully, there are many instructive swim programs for children and adults with autism and special needs all over the country. These programs typically feature specially-trained individuals who can help teach your child to love the water no matter what their ability level. Do some research online or ask your child’s therapist or pediatrician for recommendations. This list featured on the National Autism Association’s website is a great place to start.

It’s All in the Planning

Before going on a swimming outing, do your research and plan ahead.

If crowds are a concern, find a smaller pool that will be more accommodating and try to go at times when it’s not so busy.

Make sure you pack lots of snacks. Swimming takes a lot of energy, and the last thing you want is a mean “hangry” to make your trip more difficult.

Bring along a bag of sensory toys or other soothing items for when it’s time to take a break. It’s also a good idea to bring along sunglasses to protect against the sun’s glare on the water. A wet bag for placing wet clothes in after swimming can also be helpful, especially if your child doesn’t want to sit in their swimsuit on the way home.

When you get to the pool, make sure to scout out where important areas like changing rooms, first aid areas, and concessions are to make transitioning from one environment to the next easier.

Touch base with lifeguards and pool attendants to make them aware of the child’s unique needs. Communicating the unique abilities and challenges that your child may experience ahead of time is an easy way to make sure that, in the event of an emergency, the staff is aware of the situation.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is the possibility of elopement. Make absolutely certain you prepare for the opportunity of wandering at the pool, beach, or lake before you go by creating solid strategies beforehand. For help planning for a possible elopement event, check out our Elopement Strategies video.

Be Mindful of Limitations

Sometimes, even with planning, things don’t go as you would have thought. While many of these tips can help with some of the anxiety and uncertainty that comes from taking a sensory sensitive or special needs child to a water-focused outing, every kid is different. Whether you’ve been out for an hour, fifteen minutes, or you just paid your admission, if your child needs to go, it’s time to go.

It’s okay! Take the opportunity to continue working on integrating swimming-based sensory experiences into your child’s daily routine through the season. After all, there will be another Summer next year. What matters is the quality time and care that you give them. Even though it might have its challenges, a swimming outing can be a great summertime experience and a worthwhile experience for the whole family.

Elopement Strategies for Individuals with Special Needs

Create an elopement prevention plan with help from eSpecial Needs

eSpecial Needs proudly presents the first in a series of educational talks for parents and caretakers, Elopement Strategies for Individuals with Special Needs. This live talk about elopement prevention, originally presented on April 27th, 2017, is now available on YouTube.

During the first half of this 40-minute discussion, eSpecial Needs’ Emily Martin (MOT, OTR/L) uses her 12 years of experience as an occupational therapist to offer tips on how to safeguard loved ones who wander or elope. Afterward, eSN Sales Manager Scott Kouri demonstrates tools meant to prevent dangers associated with elopement. You can also download the materials we offered to attendees for printing and creating your own elopement prevention plan.

When you’re done watching, take a moment to check out our Elopement Prevention Kit. Featuring locks, alarms, GPS tracking, and other important information, this all-in-one kit is a great start for parents and caretakers struggling with loved ones who wander.

Please remember to “like” and “subscribe” to our YouTube channel for more great talks and information.  Our next talk will center on helping parents create and advocate for an individualized education plan (IEP) or their child, so stay tuned!