Special Needs Children Have a World of Options

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By Yvonne Vasquez
Part of the joy of being a parent is having fun with your children. Being able to share in enjoyable activities and keep them happy at the same time is every parent’s ideal situation. But when your child has special needs, this can be especially problematic. Some physically and mentally challenged individuals often have difficulty adapting to public environments because they cannot control their actions in all situations. In addition, their disabilities often make it harder for them to participate in certain sports or other activities. Limited wheelchair accessibility in some locations, such as playgrounds, makes family outings difficult.
Fortunately, parents in San Antonio have options that will allow them to add fun to their family schedule while being able to adapt to their children who may require above-average care in a secure environment. Several local parks and entertainment venues are now doing their part to make fun open to everyone.
Since making its debut just over five years ago, as the first wheelchair-accessible amusement park of its kind, Morgan’s Wonderland has become renowned for its exceptional charm. Specifically, this purpose-designed interactive park assures that children with physical and cognitive needs always have a magical place to have fun.
Unlike traditional amusement parks, all areas of this remarkable park are designed to accommodate wheelchairs. Instead of sitting on the sidelines watching other children have fun, Morgan’s Wonderland has made it possible for every adult and child to enjoy all it has to offer. From the swings and carousels to the trains and playgrounds, it is a dream come true for so many with special needs.
But, the playground experience is only one area where special-needs children face obstacles. Enjoying a movie outing, for example, is an experience that is seldom possible for many families with children who require extra attention. The dark environment and loud sounds can be too frightening for them. It can also be uncomfortable for families if their children cry out or become excited. Fortunately, two local movie theatre chains now provide sensory-friendly screenings especially for children who have a sensory processing disorder or other disability. AMC Theatres
has partnered with the Autism Society to feature a family movie screening once a month at their Rivercenter 11 downtown location. Eva’s Heroes has also teamed up with Santikos Theatres to offer these showings at select locations on the first and third Tuesday evening of every month. These locations include Embassy 14, Silverado 16, Rialto and Mayan Palace. Guests with intellectual challenges are admitted free of charge. These screenings feature brighter lights and lower sound volume to provide a safer, more welcoming setting for all. Family members are also allowed to bring in any diet-specific snacks they may want during the show. Most importantly, audience members are encouraged to dance, shout, sing and move around at their leisure.

During the warm summer months, cooling off in a refreshing pool can be a real treat. It’s great to know that more than 20 local pools have been modified for easy accessibility by children with disabilities. All pools are equipped with chair lifts. Several city-operated pools also have zero-depth entry, including Lady Bird Johnson (10700 Nacogdoches Road), Heritage (1423 S. Ellison Drive) and San Pedro (2200 N. Flores) locations. Admission is free.

A number of city parks now have accessible playgrounds as well. These include Woodlawn Lake Park (1103 Cincinnati), Phil Hardberger Park (8400 N.W. Military Highway and 13203 Blanco Road), Walker Ranch Historic Landmark Park (12603 West Avenue), South Side Lions (3100 Hiawatha) and San Juan Brady (2307 S. Calaveras).
The long-awaited DoSeum (San Antonio’s Museum for Kids) is now open and it does not disappoint. The DoSeum encourages creative learning through doing, all while having loads of fun in the process. Lots of interactive exhibits make this destination a must-see for all families. Future plans include an ADA-accessible tree house, a sandscape and a Children’s River. An important initiative for this amazing world-class museum is programming for kids and families who have children with special needs. This is great news for these young members of our community. Although the entire museum is ADA accessible, plans are underway for special sensory-friendly hours. Check with the DoSeum for more information about this as well as other specific offerings for those with disabilities.
Many children with physical and mental challenges have the desire to be physically active by participating in sports like other children. Some recreational facilities now have modified areas where special-needs children can experience the thrill of athletic events just like other children. The Miracle League of San Antonio has made dreams of playing baseball come true for so many special-needs children and adults. Games are played on a custom-designed field called the Mays Family Field of Dreams located next to the Nelson Wolff Stadium. The cushioned turf minimizes injuries and allows for wheelchairs and other mobility aids. Each player is assigned a “buddy” who helps them hit the ball and round the bases. This can be a parent, sibling, family friend or volunteer. The first of its kind in our community with it’s own specialized facility, this exceptional league is open to children ages 5-19 and charges no fees. This is a great bonding opportunity where families can enjoy their time together while participating in an All-American sport.
Kinetic Kids is an organization that offers a wide range of activities for children who are limited in their participation in recreational activities due to their physical or cognitive conditions. The organization’s year-round programs range from various sports to art and music. Sports schedules are divided seasonally into Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. Basketball, gymnastics, flag football, soccer, swimming and golf are just a few of the many options available. Siblings are welcome and encouraged to participate in the art classes alongside their brothers and sisters.
Being a parent to a special needs child brings its own unique set of challenges. But it can also yield its own rewards with every milestone achieved. However, it is wonderful to know that there are now so many new ways for families to create their own special memories and so many local facilities and organizations willing to adapt and make it possible.

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