Table of contents
If you have a child with autism, you’re probably aware of the importance of having access to sensory-friendly places. On the other hand, you might not even be familiar with the concept of a sensory-friendly environment. To put it simply, a sensory-friendly place is a space that has been altered or changed in some way to be more calming for the senses. These include your five basic senses and your sense of balance and movement.
As you may well know, many children with autism experience sensory overload, which means their five senses absorb more information than their brains can process. This often makes them feel overwhelmed and a range of other negative emotions.
There are a variety of ways to create a sensory-friendly place. Here are some common and effective ways to make a more sensory-friendly environment.
- Reduced noise
- Dimmed lighting
- Quiet zones
- Designated bathrooms
- Eliminated scents or smells
- Accessible seating
- Reduced clutter
If you live in New Jersey and you’re looking for outdoor trips for your child with autism, you’re in the absolute right place. Bear in mind that the places listed below can have just one or two of the features listed above or a combination of those features, and you should never assume that a place has every one of them. Instead, you should do your due diligence and make sure the place you’re thinking of visiting has all the accommodations you need for your child.
1. Jake’s Place Play Areas, Cherry Hill and Delran
Known for its “playgrounds for everybody,” Jake’s Place play areas have balance beams, bridges, rock walls, stepping circles, and climber equipment, as well as specialized areas for children with autism. For enhanced safety, there’s also a fence surrounding the perimeter.
Built-in Challenger Park in Camden County to honor Jacob Miles Cummings-Nasto, who suffered from a rare cardiac condition that prevented him from enjoying certain activities in a traditional playground, this award-winning play place was founded on the belief that all children, including those with autism, deserve a place to play.
- Cherry Hill address: 101 Bortons Mill Road, Cherry Hill, N.J. 08034
- Delran address: 12 Hartford Road, Delran, N.J. 08075
- Phone number: (856) 662-4418
2. Cape May County Park and Zoo, Cape May Court House
This 85-acre zoo, which is home to over 550 animals across 250 species, is the perfect place for your child with autism. Chances are that you’re aware of the fact that children with autism spectrum disorder benefit greatly from being around animals since animals provide a comforting presence and can alleviate stress and anxiety.
The zoo also boasts lush country gardens and a peaceful natural environment, not to mention a large playground right outside the zoo gates, that your child will surely enjoy.
- Address: 707 Route 9 North, Cape May Court House, N.J. 08210
- Phone number: (609) 465-5271
3. Heart of Surfing, Egg Harbor Township
Heart of Surfing, a nonprofit organization, teaches children with autism and other developmental disabilities how to surf, do yoga, roller skate, engage in fitness activities, and create art.
Although the organization started just a few years ago with only a few participating families, it has grown tremendously and continues to thrive.
- Address: 409 Superior Rd Egg Harbor Township, NJ 08234
- Phone number: (609) 705-5323
4. Trailside Nature and Science Center, Mountainside
Families who want to experience a calming and airy complex that exhibits wetlands, forests, and meadows should consider visiting Trailside Nature and Science Center. Other features of this place include a bird habitat, a wildlife viewing area, and a children’s discovery room that your child with autism will surely enjoy. There are also scenic nature trails through the Watchung Reservation, which is known for being the largest park in Union County.
Behind the center, there’s a sensory-friendly trail designed to encourage interaction and stimulate the senses in a fun and enjoyable way.
- Address: 452 New Providence Road, Mountainside, N.J. 07092
- Phone number: (908) 789-3670
5. Sahara Sam’s Oasis Indoor & Outdoor Waterpark, West Berlin
Special Needs Events at Sahara Sam’s Oasis offers fun and judgment-free evenings for individuals with developmental disabilities, including children with autism, to enjoy the waterpark with their friends and families.
People who attend “Special Evenings at Sam’s,” also known as S.E.A.S., benefit from significantly reduced rates and a program that’s specifically designed to cater to the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities.
- Address: 535 North Route 73, West Berlin, NJ 08091
- Phone number: (856) 767-7580
6. Allaire Community Farm, Wall Township
Through its working farm environment and rescued animals, Allaire Community Farm seeks to “nurture through nature” children with developmental disabilities, as well as teens experiencing mental health issues, families battling cancer and veterans with PTSD.
Its outreach, events, and programs use equine therapy, animal therapy, vocational training, and organic gardening to support these families and individuals. In addition, the greenhouses and gardens support families that are undergoing financial or medical hardships, and all funds that the nonprofit farm generates are allocated towards propelling the organization’s mission.
- Address: 1923 Baileys Corner Road, Wall Township, N.J. 07719
- Phone number: (732) 796-3298
7. Storybook Land, Egg Harbor Township
This quaint amusement park in Egg Harbor Township is all about nursery rhymes and children’s stories. Storybook Land offers a calming room, a quiet dining area, and a sensory-sensitive space where your child with autism can take a break.
It also hosts “Sensory Sensitive Weekends,” where music and sounds are brought down to lower decibels, geysers, and other water features are turned off, and Medical Access Passes (MAPs) are made available to families that can’t wait in line for food or rides.
- Address: 6415 E Black Horse Pike, Egg Harbor Township, NJ 08234
- Phone number: (609) 646-0103
8. Diggerland, West Berlin
Diggerland, which prides itself on being America’s only construction and waterpark, gives families with children the opportunity to ride, drive, and operate real machines in a fun, safe, and structured environment. And, when they’re not operating specially engineered machines, they can visit The Water Main, a construction-themed waterpark, to swim, soak, and slide.
Another feature that makes Diggerland ideal for your child with autism is that it offers fun, judgment-free “Special Abilities Nights” throughout the course of the year.
- Address: 100 Pinedge Dr, West Berlin, NJ 08091
- Phone: (856) 768-1110
9. Red Bull Arena, Harrison
If you’re looking for sensory-friendly places for your child, major league sports stadiums are probably not the first places that come to mind. However, in 2017, the New York Red Bulls established a “Permanent Sensory Room” so individuals with autism could take a break from the highly energetic, stimulating atmosphere of a major league soccer match.
The Red Bulls turned the arena’s executive office space into a calming area with light-colored walls and dimmed lighting. There are also fidget toys, visual aids, and sensory sacks filled with stress balls, headphones, and other sensory regulation coping tools for your child with autism to use.
Lastly, during the season, the Red Bulls host Autism Awareness Night, making for a fun and inclusive environment for individuals with autism.
- Address: 600 Cape May St, Harrison, NJ 07029
- Phone: (973) 268-8420
10. Sesame Place, Langhorne, Pennsylvania
Sesame Place may be right over the border in Pennsylvania, but it’s close enough to garner our attention and for you to consider taking your child with autism for a day trip. Known for being the first-ever theme park to be designated as a Certified Autism Center, Sesame Place provides quiet private rooms, low-traffic quiet areas, and a no-interaction parade viewing area so your child with autism can have the time of their life while learning in a fun, inclusive environment.
Visitors also get the chance to participate in a meet-and-greet with their favorite Sesame Street characters – like Julia, a curious and sweet four-year-old who has autism.
- Address: 100 Sesame Road, Langhorne, Pa. 19047
- Phone: (215) 702-3566
Now you can see that having autism and other developmental disabilities does not mean you can’t have fun with your loved ones. After all, there are so many outdoor venues in New Jersey that offer a fun, inclusive, judgment-free environment for your child with autism.
If you really want to take their life to the next level and give them a safe and comfortable environment where they can learn, grow, and develop, contact Circle Care, where we provide ABA therapy in New Jersey, as well as other services tailored to your child’s specific needs. If you’re interested, sign up for our email newsletter to receive more tips and tricks like this!