Visit museums, aquariums, and theme parks all across the country.

By Roxanna Coldiron
April 02, 2019
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Linda Pugliese

Planning a perfect trip that's fun for the whole family can be a challenge. Every member has their own interests and needs, and you want to find a venue where everyone can have a good time. Vacation spots, amusement parks, and museums can also provide a sensory overload for children on the autism spectrum or who have sensory differences. They still learn and grow with their sense but can become overwhelmed when too much is going on at once.

Sensory issues include both hyper-sensitivity and hypo-sensitivity. According to Autism Speaks, a hyper-sensitive person may need to have the lights dimmed, noise dropped to a minimum, and avoidance of strong fragrances. A hypo-sensitive person may need weighted blankets, visual supports, and sensory-stimulating toys. Luckily, many family-friendly spots offer accommodations for children who have sensory differences. In fact, some places have become certified autism centers. The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) created the certification to recognize organizations who have trained and certified their staff and their environments to serve those on the autism spectrum. Here, we found several places that were Certified Autism Centers that have everything you would need for a fun family vacation. Each venue listed here provides plenty of interactive and sensory learning experiences to keep everyone engaged and entertained. But these places also enlist staff that are specially trained for sensory awareness and your family's needs.

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Kids get an educational experience at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis that explores history, science, and art through their senses. From a chocolate-themed slide to interactive activities in their American POP, Dinosphere, Beyond Spaceship Earth, and other exhibits, kids have plenty to see, hear, and touch. The museum offers sensory resources like a sensory map of the museum and identifies the sensory-heavy areas, as well as those areas that have less sensory stimulation.

Georgia Aquarium

At the Georgia Aquarium, parents and children can see whales, sharks, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, and other marine animals face-to-face through glass. The sounds and sights of the ocean become real and tangible. Special events like Superhero for the Ocean Day give kids an opportunity to see how they can help conserve oceans and marine life. Georgia Aquarium is also a Certified Autism Center, which means that the aquarium meets certain standards to provide a good experience for those on the autism spectrum.

Children's Museum of Houston

The Children's Museum of Houston holds sensory days in which all of the music and flashing lights are turned off, and the crowds are limited. These sensory-friendly days are available on their events calendar, so you and your family can plan the best time to go. Children can experience all that the museum has to offer without the overstimulation of loud music, bright lights, and huge crowds.

Colebrookedale Railroad

Travel back in time when railroads were the fastest way to get cross-country. The Colebrookedale Railroad, laid by soldiers returned from the Civil War, is a historical feat of engineering. The Secret Valley Expedition offers a scenic two-hour run into the Secret Valley. An Autism-Friendly Train Ride is also available for a family experience that everyone can enjoy.

Nickelodeon Universe

Meet the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dora the Explorer, and many other popular Nickelodeon characters at Nickelodeon Universe. The entertainment park also has several rides like the Adventure Bay, Avatar Airbender, and Swiper's Sweeper for those who need a little thrill. Team members have been trained in sensory awareness, motor skills, social skills, and communication so children of all sensory abilities can feel welcomed and safe.

St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum

Argh! Are ye mateys ready for an adventure that the whole family will love? St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum takes the family back in time about 300 years. Get an experience on the high seas as part of a pirate crew headed to Port Royal, Jamaica. The museum is also a Certified Autism Center and can accommodate those who need a more sensory-friendly experience.

Sesame Place

Let's go to Sesame Street! Sesame Place in Philadelphia is the only theme park dedicated to all things Sesame Street. The park offers a sensory guide so that parents know which rides and activities meet their sensory needs for their children, and all staff are trained in sensory awareness. Families can stroll down Sesame Street together, hop on rides, and enjoy shows and parades.

Space Center Houston

Love space? We do! Visit the Space Center to learn about astronauts and space science in an interactive environment. Kids and adults can experience a mission to Mars in the interactive exhibit Mission Mars and get an on-site tour of the NASA Johnson Space Center. Sensory-friendly events feature reduced lighting, music, and sound effects. Tickets for these events are limited to keep the crowd size small.

Reading Public Museum

At the Reading Public Museum, you and your family can get the ultimate fun and educational experience, all while using your senses. The museum covers history, art, and science. Visit the beauty of ancient Asia in the Passport to Asia exhibit, walk through the Arboretum for the sights and sounds of nature, and travel the stars in the Neag Planetarium. Sensory Mornings at the museum offer a quieter atmosphere for exploration.

Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove offers even more interactive experiences that engage all of your children's senses for an unforgettable learning experience. Children get to wade in the water with otters and marmosets under a rainforest canopy in the Freshwater Oasis Experience. The park also has Quiet Spaces if family members need to get away from the excitement for a bit. A Sensory Guide helps parents to see which rides and interactive exhibits affect the senses so that they can plan out their day.

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