If you’re a parent of a child with special needs, it may be challenging to find programs that entertain, challenge, or inspire. Living in Fairfield County, however, there’s an abundance of opportunities for children with special needs and their families to enjoy.
The Darien YMCA (darien-ymca.org) offers a robust program for children and teens. During the summer months, there’s “Swim and Sail” afternoon camp for children. During the spring, fall, and winter, the YMCA offers a comprehensive program for children and teens that encompasses swimming, a sport and play program, sports skill building, gym for teens (ages 16+), yoga, zumba, martial arts, fitness and music connections.
The YMCA offers a Friday Night program (ages 13+) that includes socializing, fitness/swimming and light bites from 6-8pm. The Visual Mixing Bowl offers cooking lessons for a participant and volunteer buddy. Participants learn meal planning/recipes, engage in large/fine motor skill activities, use of measuring tools and, most of all, enjoying their accomplishments!
At the New Canaan YMCA (newcanaanymca.org), individuals are welcome to participate within the Y’s traditional programs, with adaptations and additional support, or in one of their specialized classes.
The YMCA hosts weekday afternoons and Saturday programs for teens. Peer buddies are welcome to join the fun. Teen programming includes yoga, theater workshops, music, fitness, cooking, sports, swimming and social outings. An inclusive program available at Camp Mini, Sports Camps and Camp Y-Ki offers campers (ages 3-13) the opportunity to participate in a traditional camp experience with additional support.
With locations throughout Fairfield County, Swim Angelfish (swimangelfish.com) provides aquatic therapy/swim lessons. Angelfish Aquatic Therapy utilizes the therapeutic benefits that water provides for sensory integration, core muscle strength, motor coordination, body awareness, and mobility. Swim lessons for all abilities using the Swim Whisperers Swim Method helps children with autism, sensory processing disorders and motor coordination difficulties, learn how to be independent swimmers.
If the martial arts are of interest, Westport’s Dynamic Martial Arts (westportkarate.com) hosts weekly summer camps and year-round classes for children led by black belt instructors.
There’s something Zen-sational going on at Fairfield’s Yogabilitation with Teddi Barenholtz (yogabilitation.com). Yogabilitation Therapy combines breathwork, meditation, and postures with physical therapy to achieve a highly effective protocol for motor, language and social development.
Hockey anyone? Southern Connecticut Storm Special Hockey (ctstormhockey.org) is dedicated to providing children from the age of five through young adult with a developmental disability the opportunity to play ice hockey. The organization’s therapeutic program teaches skating and hockey skills, and gives the player the opportunity to play a team sport. Through hockey, the program emphasizes the continued development of individual life skills such as self-reliance, dependability, focus and confidence.
The season runs from October through March consisting of weekly Sunday afternoon practices, games & tournaments with Special Hockey teams in the tri-state area and beyond, and an end of season tournament. Practices are held at the Wonderland of Ice, 123 Glenwood Avenue, Bridgeport. No experience necessary!
Chill at the Sportsplex at Fairfield’s Fairfield Ice Academy (sportsplexatfairfield.com), where they are committed to teaching ice skating to children of all learning abilities.
If your child enjoys exploring the outdoors, The Darien Nature Center (dariennaturecenter.org) offers a nature discovery program. Join them for a series of hands-on programs once a month to explore the natural world using all of the senses. Walks through the woods, indoor games and stories, live animals, and crafts are all a part of this family program.
Several times a year, The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk (maritimeaquarium.org) offers sensory-friendly mornings. During each session (8 a.m. – 12 p.m.), lights are lowered and music and other sounds are turned down or off completely. The Aquarium also shows a specially selected IMAX movie with lower volume and less dim theater lights. All Aquarium galleries and exhibits are open, and a special low-volume seal feeding is presented. A “quiet room” is available for guests that need a respite during the visit. Most importantly, the first half of each session occurs prior to the Aquarium’s normal opening hours.
Things are wild at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo (beardsleyzoo.com) in Bridgeport! The zoo’s popular Animal Encounters program is tailored for special needs groups by request. Programming for visual, hearing, and sensory-impaired groups is also offered. “Children and their families benefit from zoo programs in a variety of ways,” explains Jim Knox, curator of education. “Kids engage in a live-animal encounter in a safe and positive manner making an indelible impression. It teaches compassion for living creatures, stimulates learning and enhances communication.”
Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk (steppingstonesmuseum.org) offers a monthly workshop, “My Ability.” This 60-minute program is offered during Accessibility Day (the second Saturday every month). Workshops include sensory activities, gross motor play, fine motor skills, child-directed activities, socialization, facilitated experiences and parent resources.
Dina M Guevara, museum educator, adds “Eight years ago, my son was diagnosed with autism. Since that time, I am acutely aware of how many schools and institutions do not provide adequate curricula for children with special needs and their families. Stepping Stones understands. Accessibility Day allows guests to enter the museum for free. We provide visitors an accessibility toolkit upon request which contains fidget toys, a weighted vest and noise cancelling headphones for their visit.”
Striking the right chord is easy at Fairfield’s The Pilot House Special Needs Center (thepilothouse.org), where children ages 3-17 compose and produce their own music. Through a professional mixing and production program, using various sound kits and instruments, kids can learn how to create musical works of art. Also offered is an after-school social club, sports, cooking/baking, photography, theater, painting, and yoga.
At Arts for Healing (artsforhealing.com) in New Canaan, your child will address personal goals in a nurturing and fun environment — one that fosters life-long skills, enjoyment, and inclusion through the arts (music, art, dance, and drama).
Looking for a fun night out with the family? At The Prospector Theater (prospectortheater.org) in Ridgefield, special sensory screenings are designed to include individuals in search of an alternate movie-going experience. Theater lights remain lit, theater sound is softened, and audiences can talk, move, rock and enjoy first-run programming in a sensitive environment.
The Prospector also provides premium accommodations to guests during everyday operations. Premium reserved seating is available to patrons with low mobility, or wheelchairs, as well as their caregivers. Descriptive narrative headsets, volume-boosting headphones, and closed- captioning glasses are available for every first-run show.