Summer Fun for Families with Special Needs Kids

Summer Fun for Families with Special Needs Kids

As the long, lazy days of summer approach, most of us look forward to the refuge from the mad rush of school mornings, homework evenings and extracurricular bedlam. But our kids still need some kind of framework for summer days. This is a deeper concern for parents whose special needs kids are vulnerable to regression when structure is removed. Here are some ideas for family fun that will maximize your child’s success over the summer:

Playgrounds built with special needs children in mind are fun for all kids. Try Shane’s Inspiration in Griffith Park, Martin Luther King, Jr. park on Western Avenue and Aidan’s Place in West Los Angeles. Find more at

Water, Water, Everywhere! The Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden at the Huntington is a paradise for children who love water, with magical “fog” glens and interactive fountains. Bring towels, a change of clothes and plenty of sunscreen. Nearby Kidspace offers a courtyard with water jets, as well as a wading stream and waterfall in their “backyard” play area, in addition to fantastic indoor and outdoor climbing structures and hands-on learning opportunities. Footwear is required, so bring crocs, sandals, or water shoes.

California Science Center’s new “Ecosystems” exhibit provides eight different environments–including the River Zone, the Extreme Zone (with a real flash “flood” which rumbles through every ten minutes) and the Rot Room replete with such kid-pleasing critters as roaches, millipedes and maggots. There is also a lovely outside space, where kids can watch how the ocean makes waves and explore with their fingers (gently!) the feel of live sea creatures, like starfish and sea anenomes.

Many municipal swimming pools offer accommodations for children with special needs. At your local pool, inquire if there is a Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator on staff. See for more info. And most YMCA’s offer swim classes taught by staff who are specially trained to work with special needs kids.

Horseback riding lessons, even if you can’t imagine your child galloping away into the sunset, are offered by many local organizations. Therapeutic riding, also known as “Hippotherapy,” improves balance, coordination and social skills. Check out the Children’s Ranch (, Valley View Vaulters (, MACH 1 ( and Ride On (
Remember that the key to having fun with your child is to create adequate support and structure for yourself, too. Reach out to other special needs parents in your area. Pitch in and rent a bouncy house for the day or gather in someone’s backyard for a cook-out and appreciate the new connections your child has brought to your life. And when you’re feeling like the days are too long and hot, take a deep breath and run through the sprinklers.

Kate Movius is a freelance writer living in Highland Park amidst the resplendent chaos of her two boys. Kate also teaches childbirth classes in Los Feliz and facilitates online and in-person support for special needs parents. [email protected]

Securing Support Services
With the recent budget cuts in school districts and regional centers, parents need to be more creative in the ways they request summer services for their children. Instead of asking for camp, talk with your Regional Center coordinator about finding a social or recreational skills program for your child, such as Ability First,, Education Spectrum,, and Center for Developing Kids,

To find out whether your child qualifies for Regional Center services, go to

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