April is World Autism Awareness Month, and Nashville Parent is celebrating the events, programs and resources that accommodate local kids and adults on the spectrum with a local listing of events, programs and resources. All around the world, kids and adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), process sensory information differently. Kids with ASD can become easily overwhelmed by stimulating experiences — especially in public settings.
Autism impacts many aspects of a person’s life, including movement, attention, learning, memory and language. In addition, mood and sociability are different, in fact, the common feature among those with autism is a lack of social relatedness. As it turns out, neurological differences in children on the spectrum can be detected in the movements of babies who roll, sit, crawl or even learn to walk in uncoordinated ways.
So, for kids and adults of all ages on the spectrum, it’s very helpful that sensory-friendly events and experiences are now mainstream. Creating expectations for people with sensory sensitivities is key. For our listing, the following events and organizations are committed to providing sensory-friendly accommodations. These include:
- Sight – Having a space with serenity in mind, that limits sudden changes in light and focuses on moderation, and calming color schemes.
- Touch – Some events will have specific sensory objects and toys designed to stimulate attendees sense of touch, and provide a way for people to keep their hands busy.
- Taste – Events with food have detailed descriptions of ingredients and taste, and several options.
- Hearing – Attendees aren’t exposed to loud and sudden noises. In addition, the general volume never gets too high or low.
- Smell – The space is not heavily scented with air fresheners, and mixed odors are kept at a minimum.
Read on to discover sensory-friendly, inclusive playgrounds, programs and resources.
Thisbe & Noah’s Promise Park at Nashville Zoo.
Freedom Inclusive Playground
110 Sam Ridley Pkwy., E., Smyrna
An all-inclusive playground, built to accommodate children of all abilities. You can even watch planes taking off and land
Mary’s Magical Place
Scotch St., Hendersonville
An inclusive playground built for children of all ability levels. This wheelchair accessible park is a beautiful resource in Hendersonville for family-friendly fun.
240 Champion Dr., Gallatin
Tennessee’s largest inclusive park is designed for those physically-unable to play at typical park facilities. Special features include a wheelchair swing, plenty of ramps, poured in place ball field surfacing with flat bases and hand railings for support.
521 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Murfreesboro
The all-shallow pool sports a zero-depth entry that gradually slopes to a two-foot depth with an interactive water play system. A slide empties into a four-foot depth and the lap area varies from three to four feet.
Thisbe & Noah’s Promise Park at Nashville Zoo
3777 Nolensville Pike, Nashville
At the Nashville Zoo, Thisbe & Noah custom designed and built an all-inclusive playground for ALL children. The best part is that Promise Park has equipment designed for children with and without disabilities, promoting side-by-side play.
EVENTS TO EXPLORE
Autism Tennessee Birthday Bash
Saturday, April 30
Exclusive use of the Adventure Science Center (800 Fort Negley Blvd., Nashville) from 8 – 10 a.m. includes a quiet room with cupcakes and ice cream, sensory-friendly accommodations and a goodie bag. You must be registered for this event.
FREE! Nashville Symphony Sensory-Friendly Concert
Saturday, April 2
To help launch the Creativity Empowers art exhibit at Nashville Public Library (615 Church St., Nashville) including works by artists with special needs and challenges, a Nashville Symphony duo will perform sensory-friendly pieces at 10:30 a.m. in the Children’s Theater.
Sunday, April 3
Sensory-friendly jumps at Urban Air Adventure Park (4331 Old Hickory Boulevard, Old Hickory) happen the first Sunday of each month from 9 to 11 a.m.
Chuck E. Cheese Sensory-Sensitive Sundays
Sunday, April 3
Chuck E. Cheese’s in Nashville (2070 Gallatin Road North, Madison) offers a sensory-friendly experience on the first Sunday of every month with less crowding and noise, dimmed lighting and limited appearances by Chuck E.
FREE! Special Needs Egg Hunt
Thursday, April 7
Come out to Mary’s Magical Place at Veterans Park (140 Scotch St., Hendersonville) for three 30-minute egg hunt sessions from 3:30 – 6:15 p.m. Session One is for those with sensory issues and/or mobility issues (such as wheelchair, walker, foot/leg braces, difficulty walking or standing, etc.). Register to participate.
FREE! Discovery Center All Access Night
Thursday, April 14
A time for special-needs families to enjoy the exhibits at the Discovery Center (502 Southeast Broad Street, Murfreesboro) in a sensory-friendly environment from 5 – 7 p.m. Reservations are suggested.
Shrek, the Musical
April 30, May 1
Backlight Productions presents Shrek, the Musical featuring an integrated cast of 20 actors with with intellectual and developmental disabilities alongside 5 professional actors and 10 youth actors to create a unique and exciting performance audiences will never forget! Performances happen at The Nashville Children’s Theatre (25 Middleton St, Nashville) April 30 at 6 p.m. and May 1 at 3 p.m.
PLACES & PROGRAMS
Adaptive Rock Climbing
Catalyst Sports hosts monthly adaptive climbing clinics for youth and adults with a wide range of physical disabilities. These sessions typically happen the second Saturday at The Crag (15115 Old Hickory Blvd., Nashville ) and the fourth Sunday at Climb Nashville (3600 Charlotte Ave., Nashville). Register prior to attending.
Adventure Science Center
800 Fort Negley Blvd., Nashville
Offers a variety of accommodations to make the science museum inclusive. Free sensory kits are available as well as online resources, like social stories, to help your child prepare a visit. Now open is the EY Sensory Room.
1724 Carothers Pkwy., Ste 400, Brentwood
Offers more than 30 therapeutic and educational programs that advance literacy, math skills, motor skills and more — all of which are free of charge — and are based on best practices for Down syndrome learning styles, and customized to ensure individual success.
2310 Memorial Blvd., Murfreesboro
A field created for children with special needs, equipped with a playground. Children in wheelchairs can enjoy climbing features and more on a padded surface with shaded areas.
MOVE Inclusive Dance
7657 Hwy 70 S #101, Nashville
An inclusive dance studio offering virtual and in-person classes.
We Rock the Spectrum Franklin
1113 Murfreesboro Rd #203, Franklin
Sensory activities where children can play with specialized equipment, a trampoline, swings and a zip line. Admission is $16 per child.
RESOURCES FOR PARENTS
Inclusive Swimming Program
95 White Bridge Road, Suite 209, Nashville
The Nashville Dolphins offer free swimming programs and swim team for all ages with special needs.
118 Maple Row Blvd., Suite A1A, Hendersonville
Swauger Pediatric Dentistry provides extra-sensory supports when going to the dentist.
811 N Thompson Lane, Suite B, MurfreesboroSensory-friendly haircuts.
Sprecial Kids Therapy & Nursing Center
2132 E Main St, Murfreesboro
Serving children who need a little extra help, are medically fragile and all sorts of diagnoses in between.