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Fun For All

Traci Goldenbaum, 38, sometimes feels like she’s just not measuring up. She often feels like she doesn’t provide enough opportunities or new things for her 9-year-old son, Grayson, who has Joubert syndrome (a disorder that affects brain development) and uses a wheelchair, to try. Navigating activities suited to his likes, needs and abilities proves tricky. “He’s not afraid of a lot,” the Dallas mom admits. “I’m the chicken mom.”
But there are now lots of local businesses that let kids like Grayson do just that — try something new — by hosting sensory-friendly and all-abilities events and activities that take place weekly, monthly or quarterly. We found indoor playgrounds, museums, water parks and more with times set aside exclusively for children who are on the spectrum, have sensory disorders, use wheelchairs or have other needs. (For places that host these special events less frequently, check out the “5 Things to Do in July & August” on page 27.)

With rides, tunnels, an arcade and lots of music and games, Chuck E. Cheese is a playtime paradise for kids but can be overwhelming for children with special needs. New this year, locations in Allen, Denton, Fort Worth, Garland, Grapevine and Plano host Sensory Sensitive Sundays the first Sunday of the month two hours before they open the doors to the public. Kids try their hand at Whack-A-Mole, Skee Ball and other games in a fun space that’s less crowded, quieter, with dimmed lighting and soft music (or no music if you request it). Chuck E. Cheese himself also makes limited appearances.
Cost: Play Pass Packages from $10
When: First Sunday of the month, 9–11am; the next one is July 2
Where: Multiple locations; chuckecheese.com
Last December, EQ Kids Club in Frisco opened its doors and themed play stations to kids ages 8 and younger. To make the animal sanctuary, cafe and other play areas (and complementing costumes) more accessible to kids with sensory sensitivities, owner Marcia Morales hosts Family Fun Nights on the 15th of every month for an hour. She pulls the shades and softens the music as guests with special needs ages 12 and younger practice their social skills leading Jeep tours in the safari zone and taking orders at the hot dog stand. Opportunities for tactile stimulation — like playing with sand at the Dinosaur Table or cooking with wooden spoons and oven mitts — abound. Kids with lots of energy can burn it off on the indoor trampoline while those who need a break crawl inside a tent. Admission includes tea for parents and a snack for kids. Call to RSVP.
Cost: $10 per child; free for siblings 12 months and younger
When: 15th of every month from 6–7pm
Where: 3245 Main St., Suite 239, Frisco, 469/579-4926; eqkidsclub.com
Join your kiddo (for free) at Jumpstreet Indoor Trampoline Parks in Allen, Colleyville, Dallas and Plano when they host the monthly private hour of bouncing for kids with special needs. Kiddos swim through the foam pit, score points at the trampoline basketball court or experience the bounce houses and wavy trampoline. There’s a designated area for ages 3 and younger too. And when they need a break, kids can take a seat where they are (something that’s not allowed during normal business hours).
Cost: $4 for ages 3 and younger; $8 for ages 4 and older
When: First Saturday of the month, 9–10am
Where: Multiple locations; gotjump.com
The Amon Carter Museum of American Art invites children with visual impairment and children on the spectrum to two different education programs specially designed for them. Sign kids with low or no vision up for Close Encounters, which takes place every other month. Docents help set the scene that appears on the canvas using tactile renditions (pictures with raised lines) of the artwork and sensory objects such as velvet cloths or lassos. Exploring the collection on your own? Ask the front desk for a tactile tool bag to accompany your self-guided tour.
Or reserve a spot for the monthly Sensory Saturdays, a free program for children with autism ages 5–12 and their parents and siblings. Families tour the galleries, learn about the works then do a hands-on project.
Cost: Free
When: Close Encounters: Wednesday, August 9, 2–3pm; Sensory Saturdays: July 8 and August 12, 10:30am–noon
Where: 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817/738-1933; cartermuseum.org
The Dallas Museum of Art hosts two-hour, themed Autism Access programs four times a year. During the July 1 event, families will sculpt together, move to tunes from a music therapist and listen to stories. Also on hand: a quiet room filled with sensory activities and facilitated by occupational therapy students from Texas Woman’s University. Before the museum opens to the public at 11am, visit the Center for Creative Connections on the first floor for a semi-private tour of the interactive activities. Register in advance online.
Cost: Free
When: Saturday, July 1, 9–11am
Where: 1717 N. Harwood St., Dallas, 214/922-1200; dma.org
Partnering with the Autism Society, AMC Theatres offers family- and sensory-friendly animated films on the second and fourth Saturday mornings. Mark your calendar to see Despicable Me 3 on July 8, Spider-man: Homecoming on July 22 and The Emoji Movie on August 8.
Cost: Prices vary by location
When: Second and fourth Saturday mornings; times vary by theater
Where: Multiple locations; amctheatres.com
Dubbed “Alamo for All,” movies at Alamo Drafthouse shown before 2pm on Tuesdays feature a sensory-friendly format. Seating is reserved, so save your seat preferences ahead of time — whether your crew needs to be close to the exit or far from the screen. Order a burger, pizza (gluten-free options available) or a warm chocolate chip cookie and have it delivered to your seat during the show.
Cost: $5 per person
When: Tuesdays before 2pm
Where: 1005 S. Lamar St., Dallas, 214/914-4443; 100 S. Central Expy, Suite 14, Richardson, 972/534-2120;
B&B Theatres in Wylie shows a sensory-friendly film once a month on a Saturday at noon. See Despicable Me 3 on the big screen with brighter house lighting, quieter audio levels and no previews.
Cost: $7.45 for kids; $8.55 for adults
When: July 1 at 12pm
Where: 711 Woodbridge Pkwy, Wylie, 972/412-9999; bbtheatres.com/wylie-12
Dallas Children’s Theater is wrapping up its season of sensory-friendly shows for kids ages 5 and older, but you can still catch one last viewing on July 8 of Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale at 1:30pm. Enjoy free face painting, clown performances and arts and crafts an hour before the curtain goes up. During the show, pop in to the quiet room if your kiddo needs a break. To prepare them for the show, download the social story, parent tip sheet (which outlines specific details about the production) and show synopsis. The next season, opening with an adaptation of Goosebumps in September (tickets go on sale August 1), features 10 adapted shows including two matinees. And enroll kids ages 8–12, who prefer to be on stage, in Blue Pegasus Players, an acting class for children with autism, Asperger’s and sensory processing disorders. Register for the class by phone.
Cost: $5 per person for shows; $75 for a three-day class
When: July 8, 1:30pm; classes ongoing
Where: 5938 Skillman St., Dallas, 214/740-0051; dct.org
Studio Movie Grill (SMG) provides free sensory-friendly movie screenings 2–3 times a month on select Saturdays at 11am. Take advantage of the dine-in theaters with kid-approved options beyond the standard popcorn-and-candy fare. The menu includes gluten-free burger buns and pizza crust. Order the kids’ mac 'n' cheese, quesadillas or a mini cheeseburger while watching Despicable Me 3 on July 8.
Cost: $6 for adults; free for kids
When: Varying Saturdays; call ahead for day and time
Where: Multiple locations; studiomoviegrill.com
Pack beach towels and sunscreen and suit up for Champions Day at Hawaiian Falls Waterparks in Garland, Mansfield, Roanoke and The Colony. Twice a summer, the park opens up two hours early (and for free!) for kids with special needs and their families (not free). Ride the tube slides, swim in the wave pool or float in the lazy river. Lifeguards use whistles only when necessary and turn the music down too.
Cost: Free admission for champions; $10 companion tickets
When: Saturday, August 5, 8:30–10:30am
Where: Multiple locations; hfalls.com
Get up early — and come hungry (Chick-fil-A serves breakfast) — to ride the water slides, frolic in the spray ground, wade in the shallow pool and more at Wet Zone Family Waterpark in Rowlett during monthly Angel Swims for kids with special needs and their families. Don’t miss the Water Wars station for some water gun fun, then take a break in the grassy area or get out of the sun under one of the umbrellas and pavilions.
Cost: Angels are free; $4 for family members and caretakers
When: July 29 and August 12, 8:30–10:30am
Where: 5304 Main St., Rowlett, 972/412-6266; wetzonewaterpark.com