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life skills and cultural activities for special needs

18 Cultural Activities & Life Skills Classes for Kids with Special Needs

From performance arts and movie screenings to life skills

Summer can be fun for everyone! To prove it, we’ve rounded up cultural activities and life skills classes that are tailor-made for children who have special needs—whether that’s a physical difference, developmental disability, a sensory sensitivity or something else. Check out these 18 resources around Dallas-Fort Worth to help you make this summer a memorable season for your family.

Performance & Fine Arts

1. Dallas Children’s Theater’s Blue Pegasus Players: DCT’s program for kids (ages 8–18) with special needs such as autism, sensory processing disorders and Down syndrome. Monday through Friday summer class sessions—where kids will act, move, make a play and other activities—are available during select weeks in June and July. Call to enroll your child. Scholarships are available.
Dallas and virtual; 214/978-0110, ext. 138

2. Lakewood Conservatory of Fine Arts’ Music Therapy Program: Music helps restore, improve and maintain mental and physical functioning, so consider introducing your child to music as a therapeutic tool through Lakewood’s private lessons, which are open to kids and adults of different abilities and learning styles.
Dallas; 214/613-2020, lakewoodconservatory@gmail.com

3. North Texas Performing Arts’ Starcatchers: Children and adults with cognitive disabilities can get involved in drama, music, dance and visual art. Sign up your child (age 8 and up) for a 2-hour UpSTARt Workshop to get a sense for Starcatchers, or for summer classes or camps to learn a particular skill. In the creative art summer camp, you’ll learn all about how to put on a theatrical production. Camp sessions, each with a different theme, will be held during various weeks in June and July. Scholarships available.
Dallas, Frisco, Fairview and Plano; starcatchers@ntpa.org

4. Art HouseAdults with special needs (age 18 and up) can learn to express themselves through art by joining Art House’s Adaptive Art classes, offered every week year-round and at a reduced price, too. Sign up online to join the drawing and painting classes held on Thursdays at Highland Village and Fridays at Southlake.
Highland Village and Southlake; 214/285-0084

5. Dance Club with Plano Adapted Recreation: Monthly dance parties are open to those with special needs age 15 and up. These are DJ-led themed dances, served up with light refreshments too, are held at the Sam Johnson Recreation Center, at 401 W 16th Street in Plano. Be sure to dress to the theme each, like red, white and blue for the July dance. 2022 dates and themes here.
Plano; 972/941-7250

6. Starlight Music Lessons will send a music teacher to your home to work with your kiddo on learning to play instruments piano, violin, guitar and drums or for voice lessons. Each session is either 30, 45 or 60 minutes for the private, in-home lessons in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Virtual lessons are also an option. A select number of Starlight’s teachers have specifically pursued higher education in teaching music to children with special needs. Email info@starlightmusiclessons.com to inquire about booking those teachers.

RELATED: 19 All-Abilities Parks, Playgrounds & Indoor Play Areas

Movie Showings

7. Alamo Drafthouse’s Alamo For All screenings are designed for movie fans with special needs as well families with young children. Lights are turned up and sound is turned down; talking, noise and moving around are all permitted. Latecomers are also allowed in the theater. Adaptive technology is welcome (but other electronics are not). Alamo Drafthouse movies that start before 2pm on Tuesdays follow Alamo For All rules, as do select matinees on the weekend.
Multiple locations

8. Sensory Friendly Films at AMC TheatersThe lights are up, the sound is down, and guests are permitted to get up, walk, dance, sing and shout. Family screenings are on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month; mature audience sensory screenings are on Wednesday evenings.
Multiple locations

9. Special Needs Screenings at Studio Movie Grill: Head to your local SMG movie theater for special screenings that are free for children with special needs and their siblings. (Same drill: lights up, low volume and freedom to talk, make noise and move.) Adult tickets are available for the before-noon price. Movies start at noon at all locations on selected dates.
Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, The Colony

Social Activities + Life Skills

10. Best BuddiesFoster a one-on-one friendship for your loved one with special needs through this organization that matches up individuals with and without IDD for an ongoing connection. There are community, school-based and virtual programs. Best Buddies also provides employment assistance and leadership development.
Dallas office; 214/242-9908

11. Awesome on the Spectrum promotes independence for teens and adults with autism spectrum disorder. The Arlington organization holds social skills sessions in addition to providing employment assistance and limited respite care, among other services.
Mansfield; 682/227-6039

12. Special FriendsGet to know others through this program at Central YMCA in Arlington. Special Friends, a partnership of Arlington-Mansfield area YMCA and MHMR of Tarrant County, is open to adults with special needs. Participants build social, organizational and other daily skills while getting creative, being active and having fun.
Arlington; for questions, email Special Friends coordinator Barbara Hopson or call 817/548-9622, ext. 2301

13. The Clubhouse for Special Needs summer program provides a recreational environment for young people ages 13–22 (or thereabouts). There’s a lounge, table games, video games, computers and internet access, crafts, puzzles, books and more. The Clubhouse, in northeast Tarrant County, also works on community service projects and has field trips.
Bedford; 817/285-0885

14. The Center for ASD has a variety of offerings to promote social skills and encourage fun. The Thrive program is split into two groups: one for kids 7–12 (with science activities, crafts and socialization), and the other for age 13–17 (think game nights, food and hanging out). REACH is a day-hab and vocational group for adults with special needs, with structured activities for learning and socializing. The Center for ASD also offers parent groups and respite care.
Burleson; 682/499-6655

15. Story Stage helps your child develop the ability to chitchat this summer. The organization works with kids with learning differences and high-functioning autism, as well as others without a diagnosis who are struggling socially or academically. The Art of Chit Chat uses games and improv to teach children about tone of voice, body awareness, topic maintenance, turn taking and more. Story Stage will also hold a three-week summer camp at The Key School.
Fort Worth; 817/989-6399

16. Southlake’s Club Metro (for age 13 and up) offers a weekly social night, featuring games, art, yoga, guests from the fire department or nature center, and more. The program is also open to residents outside Southlake. Look online for the upcoming program schedule.
Southlake; 817/748-8019

17. Friendship Camps at Plano Parks & Recreation: Get your tween or teen (ages 11–15) outdoors this June to enjoy arts and crafts, swimming and exercise.
Plano; 972/941-7250

18. Life Skills Class through Plano Parks & Recreation: Arrange for your loved one with special needs (age 14 and up) to learn about counting money, time management and household chores while building conversation and social skills. Check the upcoming classes scheduled here.
Plano; 972/941-7250

RELATED: 29 All-Abilities Sports & Activities

This article was originally published in June 2021.

Image: iStock