Businesses Offer Sensory Friendly Events to Help the Autism Community

Sensory friendly store hours and film screenings are more inclusive for children with autism.

More and more businesses and other groups have begun partnering with families in the autism community to offer special, sensory friendly events. If you’re the parent of a kid on the autism spectrum, then you know that completing everyday tasks like running errands can be a challenge—and that getting your child to participate in social events like birthday parties and playdates can be even more difficult. The root cause of the stress is often some kind of sensory processing disorder, or the inability to properly assimilate and manage sensory input, triggering meltdowns, frustration, and tantrums.

Of course, all parents want to protect their children from unnecessary stress and want to avoid unpleasant scenes, but not at the expense of social interactions and other opportunities. Frequently, parents of children with autism feel forced to choose between protecting their children and going to events that promote growth, development, and social interaction.

Here are some of our favorite businesses that offer sensory friendly events.

Fortunately, many businesses are now hosting sensory friendly store hours and events or providing low sensory spaces for families. Once some of the sensory pressure is off, such as glaring fluorescent lights and loud, piped-in music, kids with autism are more likely to be able to relax and enjoy the new experience, whether it be watching a film with family and friends, visiting a theme park or simply shopping for toys.


Museums and Theme Parks

Sesame Place Theme Park

We were thrilled when Sesame Street last year introduced a Muppet named Julia, who has Autism, as its first new Muppet to join the cast in ten years. Now, Sesame Place theme park, which is based on the classic children’s television program, has officially become the first amusement park to be qualified as a “Certified Autism Center.” That means at least 80 percent of employees specially trained to accommodate children with special needs. Families will have access to quiet rooms, low sensory areas and noise cancelling headphones. Guides will be available to provide information about the best activities based on an individual’s needs. And, while character interactions will be limited, Julia is at the park and available to say “hello” and take photos with your children.

Smithsonian Institution

In 2011, The Smithsonian Institution created a program designed to make its museums more inclusive and accessible for those with sensory disabilities. The program hosts “Morning at the Museum” events for those on the spectrum. During special hours, museums provide sensory friendly activities and reduce stimuli like bright lights, loud noises, and large crowds. The museums also have take-a-break spaces complete with fidget toys, pillows, mats, and stress balls to help ASD individuals calm down and focus. The staff is also flexible and prepared to make special accommodations that may not be possible during regular museum hours.


Sensory-Friendly Arenas

Sports arenas are also beginning to improve the family atmosphere to include special spaces for fans who attend sporting events, concerts and other events at these large venues. The Utah Jazz Arena in Salt Lake City and Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland have introduced sensory friendly rooms fans who may be more sensitive to the loud noises, bright lights and overwhelming crowds. The sensory friendly rooms offer a space where anyone who may experience anxiety in these situations can become enthralled in a new engaging or relaxing activity.

The NBA Store in New York City is also making modifications to accommodate people with autism and other sensory disabilities. Employees are trained to recognize signs of sensory disabilities in order to serve customers’ specific needs. The NBA Store will provide special store exists and sensory bags which include noise-canceling headphones and fidget toys.

Following these impactful examples, 15 NBA and NHL arenas are now ‘sensory aware’ and are setting the standard for more venues in the future. Families who attend events at these venues can now feel a sense of comfort knowing that these public venues offer spaces that accommodate their special needs.


Chuck E. Cheese’s Sensory Sensitive Sundays

Chuck E. Cheese is showing its support for people with autism and special needs by offering a monthly sensory friendly event at various locations across the country. Participating locations will host a “Sensory Sensitive Sunday” event on the first Sunday of every month. The events feature smaller crowds, less noise, dimmed lighting, and food and games, and limited appearances by Chuck E. mascot and other costumed characters. Employees are trained to meet the needs of guests and ensure that everyone has an enjoyable experience. Click here for more information and a full list of participating locations.


Sensory-Friendly Films

Some AMC theaters have adopted a program to have special movie showings during which dim lighting is left on, sound is turned down, and audience members are encouraged to dance, move, talk and sing along with the film as they desire. Click here for a full list of participating theaters.



In addition to the NBS store, some major retailers offer sensory friendly shopping programs, including Costco, JCPenney and Target. These events typically include dimmed lighting, reduced store displays, and lowered music and PA announcements.

For more autism-friendly events, Autism Speaks publishes a state-by-state calendar of events at


At Springbrook, we get excited whenever we see businesses, schools, or other community members finding creative ways to make life better for kids with autism. Children shouldn’t have to miss out on fun and beneficial experiences simply because they don’t process sensory input the way that other people do. We applaud these businesses for pioneering these inclusive programs and hope that other organizations will pick up on this trend.

For more information about how to manage the symptoms of autism and related disorders in the real world, bookmark our blog. If you are the parent of a child with autism whose symptoms and behavioral issues have become too severe for you to handle, please reach out to Springbrook. Call us at 864.834.8013 for a free, confidential consultation.

Updated: April 5, 2018