Looking for autism-friendly events for kids in NYC? We found lots of sensory-friendly and inclusive performances, museum programs and opening hours throughout the city, as well as story times, movie screenings, and more for kids on the spectrum or with special needs. In addition to sensory-friendly programming and events, many museums and theaters offer visual guides, social narratives, sensory maps, and in some cases, even aids on site to make sure your outing is as fun and enjoyable as it can be.

photo: Jeremy Daniel

The New Victory Theater

One of our favorite theaters for kids in NYC is the New Victory Theater. (Check out what they have on stage this season here.) And one of the reasons we love them is their ongoing efforts to reach audiences of all kinds. 

In consultation with Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc., select performances at the New Victory are adapted for individuals on the autism spectrum or with sensory sensitivity, with modified lighting and sound, a judgement-free atmosphere and calming corner and activity area. Additionally, Autism Specialists are available throughout the performances to provide assistance as requested or needed. See what shows currently offer sensory-friendly performances here. 

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photo: Theatre des Petites Ames

LC Kids Relaxed Performances

Another venue for sensory-sensitive theater is Lincoln Center. The organization’s LC Kids program offers relaxed performances adapted for neurodiverse audiences, including children with autism or other disabilities. At these performances, there are no restrictions around noise or movement, audience members are welcome to leave and re-enter the theater, and adjustments are made to these productions to reduce sensory stimuli.

Lincoln Center also offers Passport to the Arts: A Program for Children with Disabilities and their Families, which includes programming across the complex’s many venues, including the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the Big Apple Circus, the last of which holds autism-friendly performances and Circus of the Senses. Register for the program here. 

TDF Autism Friendly Performances

For autism-friendly performances of big Broadway shows, check out TDF Autism Friendly Performances. These Broadway musicals are presented in a supportive environment for children and adults who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensitivity issues and their families and friends. 

Titles include Frozen, The Lion King, Aladdin, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and others. You can see the list of upcoming performances here.

photo: Kaiser's Room

Kaiser's Room

Kaiser’s Room  offers arts-based classes in dance and acting aimed at social and skill development. Classes are inclusive and for all ages and held in a safe and supportive environment. You can read more about classes here, and they also run a summer camp for kids ages seven and up. 

The organization also produces a sensory-friendly, interactive theater piece throughout the year, Treasure in NYC.

This winter, Kaiser's Room is staging a unique show on December 14 for people with developmental delays. Adventure in Winter Wonderland is a 45-minute multi-sensory, interactive theatrical experience. Five performers take a maximum of seven "Junior Adventure Guides" on a search for holiday presents in a safe environment. The show includes singing songs, making new friends, and using your imagination.

Sat., Dec. 14. Noon-1p.m.
Tickets: $35/participant (families watch for free)
The Studio Lab 
32 Sixth Ave.
Soho
Online: kaisersroom.org

photo: iStock

Marlene Meyerson JCC

The Center for Special Needs at the Marlene Meyerson JCC offers classes and programming that is open to the community. Classes, which have a high staff-to-child ratio include supportive gymnastic and swimming, as well as events for teens, parents and siblings.

The Samuel Priest Rose Building
334 Amsterdam Ave at 76th St.
Upper West Side 
646-505-4444
Online: jccmanhattan.org

photo: Liberty Science Center

Liberty Science Center

The Liberty Science Center in Jersey City offers a Sensory Map, which idenitifes areas in the building with bright lights, high volume, tight spaces, strong smells, live animals, and other points to help people plan their visit. You can download it here. 

The museum also developed a Social Narrative Map that helps prepare learners for the new experience and environment of visiting the museum. You can download it here. 

The museum also hosts Special Needs Days for school groups, that require pre-registration. Find more info here.

Liberty Science Center
222 Jersey City Blvd.
Liberty State Park
201-200-1000
Online: lsc.org

Guggenheim for All at The Guggenheim Museum

A drop-in program designed for families with children ages six and up, Guggenheim for All invites children on the autism spectrum and their families to explore works of art in sensory-friendly experiences in the galleries and create their own art in the studio. It’s free, although registration is required. 

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Ave.
Upper East Side
212-423-3500
Online: guggenheim.org

photo: Whitney Museum of American Art

Family Fun for All at the Whitney Museum of American Art 

Every three months the Whitney invites families with children ages six and up on the autism spectrum to enjoy sensory-friendly gallery activities and a hands-on art-making workshop before the Museum opens to the general public. Families explore a current Whitney exhibition and create their own art inspired by works on view. Registration is required. 

The museum also has a social narrative that can be downloaded here

The Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Ganservoort St.
Meatpacking District
212-570-3633
Online: whitney.org

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Discoveries Program

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has developed a robust library of museum-specific resources for visitors on the Autism Spectrum, including tips for parents,  sensory-friendly maps, social narratives, a “My Met Tour”, a visual checklist and tour, and an interactive map. 

The Museum also hosts a monthly Discoveries program for children and adults with a range of developmental and learning disabilities and those on the autism spectrum. These multi-sensory workshops, which explore a different theme each session include tactile opportunities and art-making activities. Workshops are free, but you must register, which you can do by calling 212-650-2010 or emailing access@metmuseum.org. 

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Ave.
Upper East Side
212-535-7710
Online: metmuseum.org

The American Museum of Natural History: Discovery Squad Tours 

The Discovery Squad is a unique tour program designed for families affected by autism spectrum disorders. Developed in collaboration with the Seaver Autism Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the tours take place before the museum is open to the public, and are free with regular museum admission. Click here for upcoming tour dates. Advance registration is required; email accessibility@amnh.org or call 212-313-7565 to register. 

American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West & 79th St.
Upper West Side
212-769-5100
Online: amnh.org

photo: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum 

Access Family Programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum 

The Intrepid offers many resources and programs for children on the autism spectrum. You can access social narratives, sensory guides, and visual vocabularies prior to a visit, and sensory bags, containing noise-cancelling headphones, fidget toys, and other tools can be borrowed as well. 

On the programming front, the Intrepid Museum offers Early Morning Openings and for children ages three to 18 and their families, when they can experience the Museum in a sensory-friendly environment. In the morning, educators lead short, interactive tours designed for all learners, as well as drop-in art activities and structured social/play opportunities. 

The Intrepid Museum also offers monthly programs for children (ages 5-17) with learning and developmental disabilities. Similar family programs for teens ages 15 and older and adults with developmental disabilities are offered six times a year. These two-hour programs take place on select Sundays during regular Museum hours. Families take a guided, interactive tour of the museum and participate in art-making activities. 

Advance registration is required.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Pier 86
West 46th St. & 12th Ave.
Midtown Manhattan
Tickets: $25 Adults; $18 children 5-12 (free for 4 and under)
Online: intrepidmuseum.org

photo: Jewish Museum

Access Family Workshops at The Jewish Museum

These workshops invite visitors with learning or developmental disabilities to examine current exhibits and permanent works in the museum and then create a work of their own. Workshops include gallery activities and an art project. For more information or to register for a workshop, call 212.423.3289 or email access@thejm.org. 

Jewish Museum
1109 5th Ave.
Upper East Side
212-423-3200
Online: thejewishmuseum.org

Sensory Room at Brooklyn Children's Museum

Created with an advisory committee of scholars and professionals with experience serving children with Autism Spectrum Disorders the Brooklyn Children's Museum's Sensory Room is an inclusive space where children of all abilities can engage with their peers and explore their senses. Sessions in the space are balanced between self-guided exploration of the space and a facilitated program by one of BCM’s Educators. Let the educator facilitating know if your child has any particular needs or sensitivities.

145 Brooklyn Ave.
Crown Heights
718-735-4400
Online: brooklynkids.org

Alamo for All at Alamo Theaters

The Alamo Draft House Alamo for All program is for young families and guests with special needs. (So the audience may include some new moms with babies, and the films aren't always for kids.) Screenings feature reduced sound, the lights turned up, and noise and latecomers are allowed. You can also move around if you need to. 

 The first showings of each film on Tuesdays follow Alamo for All rules, with more shows on the weekends.  Note that the schedule may vary during holidays.  Click here to see what's screening now.

445 Albee Square
Downtown Brooklyn
718-513-2547
Online: drafthouse.com

Sensory Friendly Film Program at AMC Theaters

AMC Theaters partners with the Autism Society to offer movie showings when the lights are up, the sound is down, and you can move around as you please. The Sensory Friendly Film program is available on the second and fourth Saturday of every month for family-friendly films and Tuesday evenings (for mature flicks).  You can find AMC locations in Bay Plaza in the Bronx and Magic Johnson Theater  in Harlem. Check your local theatre listings for specific showtimes. 

Online: amctheatres.com

photo: iStock

Sensory Storytime and Events at Your Local Library

It’s well-known that libraries host loads of events for kids of all ages, from LEGO play to sing-alongs and holiday happenings. Among them, is Sensory Storytime, a fun and interactive library literacy program designed to engage kids through movement, music, stories, and sensory activity play. Open to all, the program and is ideal for children with autism spectrum disorders, sensory integration challenges, or children who have difficulty sitting still.

Search New York Public Library Events calendar for this and other special events for sensory-sensitive kids in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. 

The Brooklyn Public Library  hosts inclusive story times at branches throughout the borough.

In Queens, the Astoria branch hosts Circle of Friends for children 6-13 years old with autism spectrum disorder. The program’s goal is to help children learn social skills through simple science experiments, art projects, and board games. The branch holds reading with therapy dogs for kids; advance registration is required for those; call 718-278-2220 to do so.

Also in Queens, select branches host sensory-friendly story times. Search the Queens Library events calendar for info.

photo: New York Transit Museum

Programs at the New York Transit Museum

The New York Transit Museum hosts a wide variety of events and programs for New Yorkers with special needs as part of its Access Programs. 

One Special Day for Special Kids, the museum invites children with disabilities and their families to explore the space while it is closed to the public for the first hour of the day. The event includes free admission, fun activities about transit, and a quiet room.  Special Day for Special Kids takes place three times a year (next one is March 2020), and registration is strongly recommended. All ages are welcome. 

Subway Sleuths is an after-school program for students in 2nd through 5th grades who are on the autism spectrum. The program uses a shared interest in trains among kids on the autism spectrum as a means to encourage peer-to-peer interaction and develop social skills and confidence. Subway Sleuth groups are created through advance screenings by expert facilitators, who curate groups of kids with similar social and communication profiles. Applications are typically due in September of each year. Read more about the program here. 

Boerum Place at Schermerhorn Street
Downtown Brooklyn 
718-694-1600
Online: nytransitmuseum.org

featured image: Brooklyn Children’s Museum 

—Mimi O’Connor

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