The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be overwhelming for kids with sensory sensitivities, including many on the autism spectrum. But there are still plenty of ways to celebrate the season. Here are some of our favorite sensory-friendly holiday activities:
Visit with Santa
Simon Malls’ Caring Santa events offer a subdued alternative to the typical mall meet-and-greet with Mr. Claus. Held before the malls open, lights are dimmed and music is turned off. Families can register for free, time-specific tickets at the links below:
Castleton Square Mall: November 20, 9 to 10:30 am
The Fashion Mall at Keystone: December 4, 10 am to noon
In Johnson County, families of children with autism are invited to a Breakfast with Santa on December 10 from 9 to 11 am at Mt. Auburn UMC in Greenwood, put on by the Johnson County Autism Support Group. The pancake breakfast includes crafts, games and carriage rides for $10. Families are asked to RSVP by December 5 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Stay in your car” fun
Avoid crowds and cold temperatures by taking in holiday lights from the comfort of your car.
New this year, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will host Lights at the Brickyard, a 1.7-mile drive around the grounds featuring more than 40 holiday and racing-themed scenes, along with a pass over the famous yard of bricks. Families looking to avoid lines can pre-order an Auto Speedy Pass. Details at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com/events/lights
Other popular holiday light drive-thrus include the free Reynolds Farm Equipment Display in Fishers; the Winterland Light Show in Danville (facebook.com/DanvilleWinterland); and the computer-controlled, set-to-music Lights on Lancaster show in Avon (lolweb.org).
Space to move
Both Christmas at the Zoo and holiday events at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park give kids plenty of space to run while families explore at their own pace. Conner Prairie is calmest in the mornings as soon as the park opens, and families can access quiet spaces with sensory kits that include a weighted blanket, sensory toys, lotion and books.
Avoid the crowds
Families of kids with sensory sensitivities who want to experience some of the holiday events in town, like Jolly Days Winter Wonderland at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis or Celebration Crossing at the Indiana State Museum, would be wise to visit on a weekday afternoon early in the season for the quietest experience. The Children’s Museum also offers sensory maps at the Concierge Desk or online at www.childrensmuseum.org/visit/accessibility/sensory-maps
Head to the movies
A family outing to the movies can be a fun holiday treat, and several area theaters feature special showings for those with sensory sensitivities.
Noblesville’s Hamilton 16 + IMAX runs Lights Up, Sound Down movies once a month on Saturday mornings, and will show Moana on December 3 at 10 am. (Families of children with special needs can RSVP with sponsor WestPoint Financial Group to get free tickets at www.westpointfinancialgroup.com.)
AMC Theaters shows Sensory Friendly Films four times a month at both Castleton Square 14 and Indianapolis 17. For younger kids, check out Moana the morning of December 10, while older kids will appreciate Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from J.K. Rowling the evening of December 13 and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story the evening of December 27 (check theater listings for showtimes).
Studio Movie Grill’s once-a-month Special Needs Screenings will include Moana on December 3; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 24; and Sing on December 31. Each showing starts at 11 am, and children with special needs and their siblings are free.
Want more sensory-friendly events? Flip the page to our Special Needs Calendar!