The hustle and bustle that comes along with a visit to a business that caters to our littlest friends can be tough on a kid with special needs. That’s why some local businesses block off specific times where the noise is dialed back, lights are dimmed, crowds are kept small and kids are, well, free to be themselves! Read on to learn about businesses that keep special needs kids in mind when developing their programming.

photo: Studio Movie Grill

Special needs screenings at Studio Movie Grill
Studio Movie Grill hosts family-friendly movies free for children with special needs and their siblings with the purchase of an adult ticket. These special screenings are shown with the lights up and the volume lowered. Don’t worry if your movie date likes to stay on the move, children are free to move around, talk and even dance in the aisle. All screenings are shown at 11 a.m.

Nov. 11, Thor: Ragnarok
Nov. 25, Wonder
Dec. 2, Coco
Dec. 23, Ferdinand
Dec. 30, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Studio Movie Grill, 301 Rice Lake Square, Wheaton, 630-480-9557; Online: (check back often for dates beyond the ones we listed)

photo: Chicago Children’s Museum Eric Carle Exhibit

Play for all at Chicago Children’s Museum
Chicago Children’s Museum is committed to providing exhibits, programs and public spaces that are inclusive and interactive for all families. On the second Saturday of every month from 9 a.m.-10 a.m., they invite children and families with disabilities to come and experience playful, multi-sensory exhibits for a special private hour inside the museum. The first 250 visitors to register receive FREE admission.  CCM opens to the public at 10 a.m. and Play For All families are welcome to stay and continue exploring the museum all day. Note: Pre-registration is required.

Chicago Children’s Museum, 700 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier; Online:

Go blue at the zoo
For the last 3 years, Brookfield Zoo has hosted Autism Awareness in April, where they dye the fountain blue and have special activities — like crafting, quieted Carousel rides, tailored Zoo Chats with animals and designated areas for quiet time geared toward special needs families. If you’re visiting on a day outside of the designated Autism Awareness Day, you can pick up a BZ Care Kit for free that includes noice-reducing headphones, hard copies of visual schedules, autism stickers and safety alert badges and ID bracelets in case a child gets separated.


Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Rd., Brookfield; Online:

Reach for the clouds at Sky High Sports
Every Tuesday, Sky High Sports turns off the music, dims the lights and dials down the distractions for the comfort of their guests. Jump sessions for kids with special needs and their families is a passion project for Sky High founder Jerry Raymond. The father of a special needs son, Jerry has witnessed how jumping can help improve motor and sensory skills, social interaction and overall fitness for kids and young adults.

Sky High Sports, 6424 Howard St., Niles; Online: or 2244 Corporate Lane, Naperville; Online:

photo: The Morton Arboretum

Take a nature walk at Morton Arboretum
A trip to the Arboretum is a great first ingredient for a good day for both kids and parents. It’s a fun place to explore and develop a love of the great outdoors. While they don’t have specific hours that target families with special needs, they do offer a thorough resource page on their website to help navigate the Arboretum comfortably and special Visual Schedule books are available at the Information Desk in the Visitor Center on a first-come, first-served basis. The book helps guests plan their visit and is designed specifically for individuals on the autism spectrum or with learning or development disabilities.

Morton Arboretum, 4100 IL Rte. 53, Lisle; Online:

Dupage Childrens Museum Bubble Bashphoto: DuPage Children’s Museum

Spend Your Third Thursday with DuPage Children’s Museum
On the Third Thursday each month, DuPage Children’s Museum incorporates special resources and programing for visitors with accessibility or medical issues. You’ll find regularly scheduled activities like trained comfort dog visits, DCM Studio sensory art projects and after-school programming with specialists to assist with specific IEP and at-home goals and objectives that involve playing. One-on-one caregivers or therapists receive a complimentary admission ticket when accompanying a child requiring medical assistance.

If you find a member of your crew needs a break from the action, let a DCM worker show you to the Respite Room. You’ll find a soft couch, dimmed blue lights and a calming marble wall full of light and touch sensations. TIP: After school and early evening are often quieter times for family or therapeutic visits.

DuPage Children’s Museum, 301 N. Washington St., Naperville; 630-637-8000; Online:

Lincoln Park Zoo
While Lincoln Park Zoo doesn’t have set times to bring kids who need special accommodations, they do have a great resource guide on their website giving tips on best times to come and which animal houses are the quietest, have lighting that’s comforting or are all-together sensory neutral.

Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park, 312-742-2000; Online:

photo: The A Word, Sundance TV

What to watch: Follow the thought-provoking story of 5-year-old Joe and his family after an autism diagnoses in The A Word, premiering Season 2 on Sundance TV November 8. It’s an authentic and light-hearted portrayal of a multi-generational family trying to make sense of the word for themselves and the young boy.

Do you have tips for our friends with special needs? We’d love to hear about it in the Comments below!

— Maria Chambers