10 Autism Friendly Events in Connecticut
When my children were small, we made field trips out of traveling to Connecticut Children's Museums throughout the state.
Connecticut, a popular tourist destination.
Connecticut is one of the smallest states in the Northeast region of the United States.
Connecticut's population is just shy of 4,000,000 which makes it the fourth most densely populated state in the entire country.
The state offers a mixture of rural and city life.
While there are many websites and nonprofit agencies advocating for children with Autism, most of the information I have found on my journey has been about support groups for parents. Finding activities that are friendly and geared for children on the spectrum with sensory issues has been challenging to say the least.
Connecticut is a New England state in the USA.
A list of 10 places to visit with your child.
I hope there are more than ten places to visit in Connecticut, but these are the ten that I have personally visited.
While many of the places listed herein are in the southern most part of eastern Connecticut, not all of the places are. This is also not an inclusive list of places to enjoy in Connecticut or is any place herein listed in any particular order of priority.
The inspiration from this list comes from a journey to find places where children are safe and have ample opportunity to nurture their creative and educational desires.
Penguin Exhibit at the Mystic Aquarium.
1. Mystic Aquarium.
If you've never visited Mystic, Connecticut, there is no time like August to visit.
The Aquarium hosts a free event annually for one evening only for families of children on the Autism spectrum and with sensory processing disorders.
In 2013, the event was held on Thursday, August 15 from 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
The event included quiet areas, visual supports, outdoor free play zone, supportive staff, and aquarium exhibits.
Beluga whales, seals, and sea lions were also available for viewing.
This event brings Southeast families together. The event is well-planned, safe, and we are thankful to have the Mystic Aquarium and Sensations Charitable Foundation sponsor such an event.
At any other time of the year, the Mystic Aquarium is definitely a top destination for families. There are touch tanks, outdoor exhibits, and amazing indoor tank exhibits. Families can purchase a yearly membership to save on fees.
Call for information: 860-572-5955.
Dwarf Peach and Apple Trees are within arm's reach.
Johnny Appleseed Farm
2. Johnny Appleseed Farm.
This child-friendly pick-your-own farm has two locations.
- 13 Schoolhouse Road, Ellington, Connecticut. (Open everyday from mid to late July thru Thanksgiving.)
- Route 83, Tolland, Connecticut. (Open everyday from mid to late July thru Christmas.)
Johnny Appleseed Farm offers 60 acres of dwarf apple trees. There are 14 different apple varieties to choose from. Apples picking is available from mid August through late October. Summer hours are 9am-1pm, Fall hours 9am-5pm.
There are also 35 acres of easy to reach peach trees bearing 11 different varieties. Peach picking is available early August through mid September.
The farm also grows many vegetables including tomatoes, winter squash, sweet corn, and pumpkins. Pumpkin picking is from late September through late October. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Free wagon rides on weekends! The orchards are handicap accessible.
Call before you go: 860-875-1000.
Six Paca Farm
3. Six Paca Farm.
Six Paca Farm is a Connecticut alpaca farm.
They host an open house on National Alpaca Farm Day. In 2013, the event was Saturday and Sunday, September 28-29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.
Six Paca Farm offers educational workshops including knitting, weaving, spinning, felting and dyeing. They welcome student field trips. The public is also welcome for Open Farm Day on National Alpaca Farm Day as well as Thanksgiving weekend!
Call for information: 860-204-0386.
4. Camp Harkness.
State of Connecticut offers free beach passes to Camp Harkness for use by individuals with disabilities, accompanied by their families and friends.
An application must be presented for the pass which must be signed by a physician.
The beach has ample parking.
In 2013, Camp Harkness hosted Summerfest on July 27 open to the public with food, crafts, live animals, music, and more.
Call Department of Developmental Services in Connecticut to obtain an application: 860-859-5554.
Camp Harkness includes camping cabins, camper spots, and beach.
Stay and Play
5. Stay and Play.
Stay and Play is a specially designed in-door play center for children ages birth to twelve.
This place is very accommodating to the adults who bring their children for fun activities:
- Comfortable seating for parents.
- A café with food and fair trade coffee. Teas are also available.
- Free WIFI.
- Family restrooms with stools for children to reach hand-washing areas.
- An enclosed play area for babies and toddlers not yet walking.
Free admission for adults/caregivers and pre-crawlers.
The play room is available to children under age 7 all day, every day including weekends. 9:30 am - 5:00 pm. There is a charge per child.
Stay and Play offers a game room for children ages 7-12. Open weekends, holidays, and school vacations following the Old Saybrook school calendar. A fee is applicable per child. 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Inflatable water slides are available certain times of year.
Sensory Processing Nights are supportive of children with special needs. There are less lights, no music, sensory toys, extra quiet cozy corner, and less distractions. Plus, there is a different Autism, Aspergers, and Sensory Processing Specialist on hand each Sensory Processing Night. This program is held the last Friday of every month from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. There is a fee per child. All ages are welcome. Space is limited to 30 children. Registration is required.
Call for more information: 860-395-4446
Create your own play room modeled after a science museum station!
How to build a pretend restaurant.
Prepare shelving. For this project we used hollow doors.
For the sink, we cut a hole to anchor down a plastic bin and installed a faucet from a hardware store.
The pretend microwave came from a used play kitchen at a yard sale.
We made stove burners from wooden trivets from a Family Dollar Store, and painted a cutting board black to resemble a flat surface grill.
We screwed wodden knobs to the front of the top shelf to resemble stove burners.
We purchased an inexpensive cash register online and stocked it with play money from Melissa & Doug.
We created different food themes out of playfood.
Creating play food for a pretend kitchen/restaurant.
- Decorate a flat white box with a picture of a pizza. Children can make pizza and toppings from construction paper or felt.
- Taco bar. We purchased pretend tacos and created empanadas from felt folded over and sewn on one end, stuffed with cotton.
- Eggs were felted out of white felt with sewn yellow centers.
- We also purchased other pretend food varieties online or at yard sales.
- As a final touch, we purchased some waitress order pads so the children could take pretend orders.
This is a flower wall at the Children's Museum.
6. Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut
The museum provides interactive, hands-on educational experiences for children ages 9 months to 9 years. Role playing and imagination are the spotlights of this one-level 5,000 square foot museum. The museum is a safe place for all. In addition, there are two outdoor playspaces which are wheelchair accessible.
Explore arts, sciences, health and world cultures.
A fee is required of all children over age one and adults.
Some family friendly accommodations include:
- Baby changing tables in restrooms. Disposable diaper kits are available at the front desk.
- Strollers are permitted in exhibit areas. Stroller parking is available in the coat room.
- A coat room is available at the entrance to the museum.
- A gift shop is located by the admissions desk.
- Extra clothing is available!
Call for more information: 860-691-1111.
The Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut is hosting a Sensory Friendly Event called Haunted Garden on Friday, October 18, 2013 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. It's a less hectic, less scary, Halloween celebration outdoors, weather permitting. Costumes are welcome, but not required. This hour is intended for families with children on the Autism spectrum or requiring sensory-friendly events. A fee is required per person. Call to register: 860-691-1111.
Nature's Art Center/The Dinosaur Place
7. The Dinosaur Place
Nature's Art was a store opened in 1991 in Salem, Connecticut, now known as Nature's Art Village.
Nature's Art Village is home to The Dinosaur Place opened in 2003. There are 30 life-size dinosaurs along a nature trail in a woodlands setting. Monty, a juvenile T-Rex, is the mascot, standing at 14 feet tall.
This family fun center includes the following activities for all ages:
- a water play area
- 50 acres of wetlands and woodlands
- a seven-acre man-made lake
- 1.5 miles of dinosaur trails
- a climbing structure approximately 65 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 19 feet high
- a discovery center with silver & gem mine, panning for gold, and fossil exploration
- 10,000 square foot shopping center
- craft corner
The dinosaur trails are wheelchair accessible (best for wide wheels).
The restrooms and the indoor areas are fully handicapped accessible as well.
Open March 31 through November 30. Pricing depends on activities.
Call for details: 860-443-4367
Monty's Fall Festival is all weekend long on Columbus Day weekend from October 12-14, 2013. Free family activities with park admission include crafts, moon bounce, scavenger hunt, petting zoo, and other special events.
8. Olde Mystick Village.
Mystic Village is located in Mystic, Connecticut. It's in Early American Village style settled among a duck pond and waterwheel.
There is a unique selection of shops from around the world. It's a highly visited tourist destination for out-of-town guests.
The Village offers several restaurants and a movie theater.
Each year, Olde Mystick Village shops hand out candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween, October 31, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The store owners usually dress up in costume and greet each child with a friendly smile. It's still daylight during the stroll around the village.
Call for more details: 860-536-4941.
Groton Fall Festival
Poquonnock Plains Park
9. Poquonnock Plains Park.
Saturday, October 12, 2013, Groton, Connecticut welcomes residents and visitors from afar to come out and support a day of fun while taking a stroll around Poquonnock Plains Park to meet over 100 vendors at the annual Groton Fall Festival.
This annual event is a day long festival, family oriented, and features attractions for all ages.
Poquonnock Plains Park accommodates children with disabilities.
Some features of the park include:
- Handicap accessible playground.
- Large sand play area.
- Seating under umbrellas and a gazebo centered in and around the park.
- Picnic tables.
- Swings for babies and special needs children.
- A marked walking trail outside of a playing field for various organized sports.
- Rubber textured park surface.
Essex Steam Train
10. Essex Steam Train.
The Essex Steam Train offers several child-friendly train adventures including:
- Day out with Thomas
- Circus Train
- North Pole Express
- Santa Special
Depending on the child, each one of these may be suitable. However, expect a long train ride.
The classic storybook Thomas comes to life as a train engine. All ages are welcome. Sir Topham Hatt will be aboard. Guests should arrive one hour before the main event. The ride lasts 25 minutes. (The train is not handicap accessible.) This program is open around April and May each year. Reservations are open starting in January.
Bathrooms located inside the indoor pool room.
Family Friendly Travel Accommodations.
The Hilton Garden Inn, Groton, Connecticut, offers opportunities for travelers and visitors with accessible accommodations including:
- Business center
- Exercise facility
- Guest rooms with mobility features with passage doors that provide 32" of clear width
- Hotel restaurant
- Indoor swimming pool
- Closed captioning on televisions or closed captioning decoders
- Level or ramp entrance into the building
- Public Areas/Facilities accessible for physically challenged
- Service support animals welcome
- TTY for guest use
- Van-accessible parking in the self-parking facility
- Visual alarm for hearing impaired
The Hilton Garden Inn offers a package for families of four (with children up to 12 years of age) which includes a guest room and breakfast! (Subject to availability and hotel terms.)
Please call 1-860-445-6800 for reservations.
What is your favorite weekend activity with your child?
Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have a suggestion for a place in Connecticut that you believe is child-friendly for families with children with special needs.