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Finding Autism and Sensory-Friendly Activities and Attractions

Our guide to finding sensory-friendly outings for autistic kids and adults.

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Most families look forward to school holidays and weekends where they can explore local attractions and attend events. However, for parents and families of autistic children, keeping them entertained particularly in busy and overwhelming environments can be challenging.

Autistic people find it difficult to understand non-verbal communication, and how to respond appropriately in social situations. They may experience sensory overload, where they may be extremely sensitive to smells, sights, sounds and textures. Autistic children therefore, often don’t cope well with holiday activities that other children would find enjoyable.

The great news is that autism awareness is continually increasing, and therefore many great organisations and attractions are now providing sensory-friendly rooms, activities and accessories that cater for children and adults with sensory needs.

Just remember, if a venue or event is advertising itself as ‘sensory’ or ‘autism-friendly’, it’s always a good idea to check with them to see what they do offer, to ensure they can accommodate you or your loved one.

Attractions such as the Melbourne Museum now provide social stories that help explain social situations to autistic children and help them learn ways of behaving in these situations.

Social stories have photographs to show a visitor what they’ll encounter during a visit, and they point out details about the setting, things that typically happen in that setting and the actions or behaviour that are typically expected from children in the setting.

Phillip Island Nature Park are a certified sensory-inclusive site with professionally trained staff. Sensory bags are available, equipped with noise-cancelling headphones, fidget tools and verbal cue cards. Weighted lap pads can also be loaned for free. There are also Headphone Zones and Designated Quiet Areas for visitors needing a sensory break.

Trips to the cinema can often be a no-go zone for autistic kids as they are dark and loud spaces. Thankfully, Village Cinemas and Hoyts Cinemas offer sensory-friendly movie sessions at selected cinemas for autistic children, adults and their families. Sensory-friendly films allow families to enjoy movies in a safe and accepting environment with the cinema lights turned up and the sound turned down.

The Melbourne Aquarium offer sensory-friendly Sundays throughout Winter, with new exhibitions and activity areas will be open extra early for a quieter experience and modified to suit people on the autism spectrum and visitors with a range of differing abilities. Their trained staff and volunteers are also on-hand to facilitate creative activities.

Sporting stadiums and arenas can present major barriers for individuals who have sensitivity to over stimulation and noise. The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and Marvel Stadium, both offer sensory-friendly spaces that offer visitors some quiet and calm on event day no matter the size or volume of the crowd.

MCG low sensory room
An MCG sensory friendly space

We are so pleased to hear that big and small attractions are providing these spaces for patrons of all ages who have sensory sensitivities, processing differences, or other hidden or invisible disabilities such as autism, acquired brain injury, mental illness and dementia, just to name a few. It’s just one step closer to an inclusive world for people of all abilities.

The good people at Aspect Australia say being armed with a greater awareness of neurodiversity, and by making a few simple changes or providing additional resources, you can help to create a far more inclusive environment.

People who have a hidden disability can choose to wear a Sunflower lanyard on outings, which discreetly indicates to staff and others that they may need additional time, support or understanding. This provides a consistent icon that is recognisable between locations, including travelling through the airport, on public transport, attending sport, or going to the museum.

To find out more about how we can all contribute to an autism-friendly Australia, visit Autism Spectrum Australia. You can check out their autism-friendly event calendar to find out more about autism-friendly events happening in your area.