Families with Special Needs are our HEROES! This guide is for families in the midst of crisis–or friends of those families– who need a place to start. This is our first step, our first attempt. Feedback and suggestions are very welcomed. We continue to compile this list of special needs resources and information for finding family fun and support throughout the Minneapolis and Saint Paul metro area.
The Special Needs ShortList is sponsored by the Autism Society of Minnesota.
What Did We Miss?
Family Fun - Special Needs Resources
Family fun and together time shouldn’t stop for families facing long-term challenges or with special needs. Instead, it adapts. We’ve collected organizations and venues that offer special services, events or accommodations for families with special needs.
Twin Cities Inclusive Playgrounds List
More and more communities are adding inclusive playgrounds when they update parks. These playgrounds are built to be accessible and inclusive to all abilities and developmental levels, while providing a nurturing environment for all.
Augsburg Adventure Park, Richfield • Sensory-certified, wheel-chair accessible with two transfer stations, turning bard & therapeutic rings.
Baker Park Reserve, Maple Plain • The new creative play area includes inclusive equipment that can accommodate kids of all ages.
Becker Park, Crystal • The entire park was built to be “an inclusive community gathering space regardless of age, ethnicity, culture or ability,” and includes an inclusive playground.
Madison’s Place Playground, Woodbury • This all-inclusive playground has sun-shaded play decks, swings, sensory play equipment and ramps for wheelchair access.
Miller Park, Eden Prairie • The playground has accessible pathways and surfaces to allow non-mobile children to reach all levels of the play structure.
North Mississippi Regional Park, Minneapolis • The new nature play area will be the first accessible nature play area in Minneapolis with ADA aggregate path connector, transfer platforms, and ADA fixed-in-place nature play pieces.
Northwoods Park, Brooklyn Park • The surface was created with artificial turf and the playground equipment offers special inclusive features. There is also a wheelchair softball field at this park.
Red Oak Park, Burnsville • Large accessible play structure, musical toys, inclusive seat spinner, rubber flooring.
Central Park – Victoria West, Roseville • Wide, accessible equipment, poured-in-place flooring, a concrete loop around the playground, climbing features to hillside areas, ramped area.
Rosland Park Universal Playground, Edina • Playground designed to integrate a variety of play experiences and challenges while providing access to children with physical, sensory and developmental disabilities.
Shakopee Fun For All Playground • An inclusive playground has sun-shaded play decks, ADA accessible equipment and more.
Thompson County Park • Coming in 2022!
Woodhaven Destination All-Play, Eagan • Built in 2020, this expansive playground was built to be accessible to all.
Active Play & Adaptive Sports
Looking for a place where all kids can be kids without judgment? The venues on this list offer some sensory-friendly accommodations. You can attend these special programs and know staff has been trained and other parents understand.
Battle Creek Waterworks Park, St. Paul • Autism-Friendly Hours • On select days during the season, sensory-friendly hours will offer earplugs, goggles and masks, and a quiet place with fidget spinners and other toys.
Bloomington Parks Adaptive Programming and Inclusive Services • Bloomington Parks will accommodate any special needs in any program without exception. They also offer some specifically adaptive programming.
Cheap Skate, Coon Rapids • Sensory friendly skating sessions. No loud music, flashing lights or fog. Wheelchairs always welcome.
Chuck E. Cheese Sensory Sensitive Sundays, Maple Grove & Woodbury locations • Sensory-friendly experience on the first Sunday of every month.
Courage Kenny Adaptive Sports Program | Adaptive sports offer barrier-free opportunities to explore new skills or hone a competitive edge. Courage Kenny offers both individual and team sports for people of all skill levels and age groups.
Minneapolis Parks – Adaptive Programs • In 2019, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board announced a line up of programs for kids and adults with disabilities to participate in sports, activities and events across the system. Find programs here by searching keyword “Adaptive”.
Mini-Hops Gymnastics • Adaptive Gymnastics for ages 3+.
Moore Than Dance Studio • Special Stars Dance Classes • Dance program for children with special needs.
Pump It Up, Plymouth • Special Needs Sensory Night • Every 2nd Monday evening of the month is reserved for special needs families. • $7.95/person, Advanced Tickets are Available
Pump It Up, Eden Prairie • Sensory Jump Night • On the 3rd Tuesday of every month, special needs families are invited to get out and play in a safe environment. • $7/person, 6 pm-8 pm.
St. Croix Trail Blazers • An Adaptive Horseback Riding facility, whose goal is to provide horse assisted learning, riding, training, and competitive sports opportunities to individuals with special needs in a safe learning environment through the adaptive equine experience. Ages 8+.
Three Rivers Parks • Sensory-Friendly Sundays • On the fourth Sunday of each month, starting from 9 a.m. – noon, at French Regional Park, Plymouth and Lowry Nature Center, in Carver Park Reserve, Victoria. Adapted Programs • Three Rivers can customize or adapt most of its programs to individualized needs and offers special equipment to rent. Call to learn more 763.694.7725.
Todd Anderson Wheelchair Softball Field, Brooklyn Park • The only dedicated competitive wheelchair softball field in the five-state area.
We Can Ride, Maple Pain • Sensory-Friendly Hours • Horseback Riding activities and therapies for individuals with disabilities or special needs.
West Minnehaha Recreation Center • Special Needs Tot Time • Currently just regular tot times, but call for more information. 651-298-5823.
Reader Cristin tells us that Sunray Lanes offers adaptive bowling – offering ramps for wheelchairs -on Friday afternoons. $10/child for unlimited bowling. We’ve reached out to Sunray Lanes for more information, but have not yet received a response.
Sensory-Friendly Quiet Outings
These programs have been designed to offer quieter environments, minimize distractions and offer an overall supportive, calm environment.
Here we lists zoos, libraries, book stores and studios. Also see our separate museum list for more quiet outing options.
Como Zoo & Conservatory • Autism & Sensory Friendly Early Entry Days • 9-10 am on select dates, exhibits, and activities designed for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. Before going, get a “Visual Schedule” and a “Sensory Map” to plan the day before. Also check out Como’s “Social Narrative” guide. ASL Interpretive Day on the first Wednesday of every month.
Ramsey County Public Library, Roseville • Sensory-Friendly Mornings • Every Friday morning, the children’s wing opens an hour earlier for children who need a quieter environment to thrive. I believe it began as a summer program but has continued into the school year, but call 651-724-6032 for more information.
Dakota County Library • Sensory-Friendly Saturdays • Locations and dates vary, check the link for the next event. Siblings welcome.
Leonardo’s Basement, Minneapolis • Everyone I heard from told me to include Leonard’s Basement in this list, so I am. Leonardo’s Basement kind of defies categories and isn’t necessarily quiet. Kids can create and build in workshops or come for monthly junk playground dates.
Simply Jane Studios • Experienced staff, adapted classes, and special events, inclusivity is at the core of Simply Jane’s mission. The art studio serves everyone, but has adapted the studio and employs staff who are trained to serve people with disabilities and health challenges of all types. Read about Jane’s experience here.
Wild Rumpus Bookstore • Sensory-Friendly Storytime • 2nd Thursdays of the Month, 9:30 am
Wild Rumpus is committed to the following (taken from their website):
- No music will play in the store before 12PM.
- Steps will be taken to keep animals calm, quiet, and happy, including covering the noisy birds’ cages so that they sleep during story time.
- Small objects, such as balls or small figurines, will be available for children to hold if they choose.
- Visual distractions will be minimized.
- There will be a clear schedule for story time with visual cues. Children will always be aware of what is coming next and how much longer story time will last.
- As with all of our story times, this is a no judgement zone! We all have unique needs and ways of expressing ourselves, and we at Wild Rumpus welcome and celebrate those differences.
Museums offering Resources for Special Needs
American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis • Wheelchairs are available, ASL interpreters with 72 hours notice prior to visit.
Bakken Museum • Sensory Friendly Sundays on the 2nd Sunday of each month. Find pre-visit resources at the link. Sensory friendly kits available for all visitors. Noise dampening headphones available. Quiet space on the second floor in the library.
Bell Museum of Natural History • The museum is committed to accessibility. Offers sensory-friendly Saturdays when the museum is open 2 hours early.
Mill City Museum, Minneapolis • Provide Closed Captioning , Assisted Listening Devices, ASL Interpretors with 2 weeks advanced notice.
Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis • Offers tactile diagram tours to those who are blind or have low vision, Listening Devices and ASL interpreted tours on first Sunday of each month at 1 pm.
Minnesota History Center, St. Paul • Exhibits are accessible by wheelchair and stroller. The Autism Society of Minnesota and the History Center have partnered together to make it an enjoyable experience for those with Autism Spectrum Disorders by training staff and designating quiet spaces within the museum.
Schubert Club Museum, St. Paul • FREE and very quiet. Lots of hands-on activities. Located in the historic Landmark Center. Open Sundays-Fridays, noon-4 pm.
Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul • You can ask for ear muffs for the IMAX or bring a pair of your own. They also provide amplified audio units and written scripts. Most films have a Audio Description available. When working, PCAs are provided a free admission. There are many hands-on exhibits.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis • Monthly Sensory Friendly Sundays – FREE, but Registration Required – Come in early for special activities and a crowd-free museum experience.
Theaters, Music & Movies Offering Accommodations
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Woodbury • All shows starting before 2 pm on Tuesdays are sensory-friendly: Lights are turned up and sound is turned down, All ages are welcome (including infants), Talking and noise is allowed and guests can move around, Latecomers are admitted, Adaptive technology is welcome.
Fidgety Fairy Tales • These Mental Health Musicals use humor, music, and performances by talented youth to raise awareness about children’s mental health.
Stages Theatre, Hopkins • Sensory-friendly, ASL, assisted listening performances throughout the year. Wheelchair accessible seating is reservable.
SteppingStone Theatre • Scheduled audio & ASL interpretation, assisted listening, fully wheel-chair accessible.
Sensory Friendly Family Concerts, St. Paul (Schubert Club) • Inclusive, interactive concerts • Inclusive, interactive concerts for families in a sensory-friendly, accepting environment.
Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), St. Paul • Sensory Friendly Second Saturdays • The station reserves an hour of its popular Second Saturday events for fans with sensory needs.
Z Puppets Rosenschnoz • Monkey Mind Pirates – Puppet Rock Opera helps children with sensory sensitivities learn to cope with stress.
Splurge Fun - Accessibility Resources
Thank you, to our reader, Katie for telling us about both of these amusement parks offering special needs resources:
Nickelodean Universe, Bloomington • Thanks to an insider’s tip, Nickelodean offers Twilight Savings discounts after 5 pm. The lines are shorter in the evening. Also, according to a reader tip, Nickolodean allows kids to enter through the exit to avoid lines and they can ride the same ride two times in a row without getting off. Find the park’s sensory guide here.
special Needs Resources & Support for Parents
Children’s Home Health Care:
- PHS (I love everything about this company)
Medical Resources for Children with disabilities and complex medical needs:
MN Special Education Resources
All the school districts in Minnesota offer Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) Resources. This program is for all families and offers early childhood screening and resources for parents who are looking for early intervention and assistance. Find a program in your district here.
A program of Fraser.org, the school provides programs, curriculum and assessments for toddler through 6 years in an inclusive setting.
A free public charter school with classes from Pre-K through high school. The school was designed to promote academic excellence for children with hearing loss using American Sign Language and English.