Exploring Detroit through Sensory-Friendly Activities
Story by Lindsay Whitman Drewes
Trying new things with sensory sensitive individuals isn’t always an easy task.
Luckily there are many great sensory-friendly opportunities around Metro Detroit. Many attractions have made it a priority to address the needs of neuro-diverse families.
This guide will provide you with all the information you need to make the most of your time in the city. It will inspire you to explore and try new things in a supportive and inclusive environment. Whether you're visiting for the first time or you're a local, these sensory-friendly activities are sure to delight and entertain.
Detroit is a welcoming city and perfect for all types of families.
Tips for Outings with Neuro-Diverse Children:
Going out with neuro-diverse children can be a wonderful and rewarding experience, but it can also come with some challenges. Any parent of a child with a sensory disorder knows how quickly a fun family outing can deteriorate.
Here are some tips to help make your outings with neuro-diverse children as smooth and enjoyable as possible:
Plan ahead: Before you go out, research the venue or activity you're interested in and see if they have any sensory-friendly accommodations. This information can be found on their website or by calling ahead. Also, be mindful of the time of day you plan to go out, as some children may be more sensitive to certain stimuli at different times.
Pack essentials: It's always a good idea to bring snacks, water, and other items your child may need to feel comfortable during the outing. A comfort item such as a blanket or stuffed animal can also provide reassurance and help calm your child if they become overwhelmed.
Prepare your child: Depending on your child's age and understanding, it may be helpful to talk to them about what to expect during the outing and any sensory-friendly accommodations available. This can help ease anxiety or fears and make the experience more enjoyable.
Set clear expectations: Let your child know what behavior is expected of them, such as staying with the group or using an indoor voice in a quiet setting. This can help them feel more secure and confident during the outing.
Have a backup plan: It's always a good idea to have a backup plan in case the outing doesn't go as planned. This could include a quiet place to retreat to, a familiar activity or toy, or a planned exit strategy.
By following these tips, you can help make your outings with neuro diverse children a positive and enjoyable experience for everyone. Remember to be patient, flexible, and understanding, and enjoy the journey!
Legoland Discovery Center Michigan is committed to making its attractions accessible to everyone, and that's why they offer Sensory-Friendly Mornings. The discovery center is located in Great Lakes Crossing Outlets.
During this time, the lights are reduced, music is turned off, and distracting stimuli are disabled to create a more calming and comfortable environment, especially for those on the autism spectrum. You'll be able to enjoy a peaceful and relaxed start to your day at Legoland Discovery Center Michigan during Sensory-Friendly Mornings.
Go Prepared: Legoland Discover Centers are full of stimulating activities. Help your child prepare for the trip by showing him/her photos of what they’ll experience online.
When you first enter, it’s like a funnel where you go into a room for a video factory tour, then to the ride, then through Miniland (a Detroit replica made of bricks). If your child wants to skip the video factory tour, you can just move through the doors and into the next area.
After walking through the Miniland, you’ll enter an open area where you can choose from many different play areas, including brick-building classes, race-car building, 4D movies, and so on. Help guide your child to the area they will enjoy most to prevent the overwhelm of taking in all the areas at once.
The Henry Ford is dedicated to providing all guests with an inclusive and sensory-friendly experience. They offer a sensory assistance kit with noise-canceling headphones and earplugs, as well as quiet spaces and sensory-friendly maps throughout the venue.
The staff members have received training from the Autism Alliance of Michigan to better understand and serve guests with autism and sensory processing disorder.
Go Prepared: Review the available pre-visit materials, including the sensory-friendly maps and social narratives, to become familiar with the exhibits and facilities. If needed, borrow noise-canceling headphones or earplugs from the Welcome Center or Greenfield Village ticket building. Identify the quiet spaces available throughout the venue for a peaceful break.
Santa Cares" and "Bunny Cares" events at Macomb Mall offer a special opportunity for children of all abilities, including those with special needs, to visit and take pictures with Santa and the Easter Bunny in a sensory-friendly environment.
With lower lighting and a comfortable setting, these events are designed to minimize behavioral triggers and create a supportive environment for children with special needs.
Celebrate the magic of the holiday season and capture a special memory with your loved ones at this inclusive event at Macomb Mall.
Go Prepared: To ensure a comfortable and accommodating experience, it is highly recommended to check the Macomb Mall's website in advance and register for the special "Santa Cares" and "Bunny Cares" events to secure a spot in this exclusive and sensory-friendly event.
Days and Times: Sensory-Friendly Days will take place from 10 a.m. to noon on the following dates in 2023: Sunday, Feb. 5, Sunday, April 2, Saturday, June 3, Saturday, July 1, Saturday, Aug. 5, Sunday, Oct. 1, Sunday, Dec. 3
The Outdoor Adventure Center offers a welcoming and inclusive environment for those with sensory processing differences during their designated sensory-friendly building hours.
The building's sounds and ambient noises are kept at a lower volume for a peaceful atmosphere, and a quiet room equipped with sensory materials is available for use.
Visitors can explore and experience the OAC free of charge during these designated times, and all staff has received KultureCity certification to ensure the best possible experience.
Go Prepared: Upon arrival, familiarize yourself with the location of the available quiet room.
Outdoor Adventure Center
North American International Auto Show Sensory Friendly Day
The North American International Auto Show offers a sensory-friendly option each year, designed in partnership with the Autism Alliance of Michigan.
During the show's first few hours, attendees can expect a calm and subdued environment with no loud music, presentations, or flashing lights. The goal is to make the event inclusive for those who may be kept away by high-level sensory input.
Go Prepared: Familiarizing your child with what to expect, bring noise-canceling headphones or other sensory aids to provide a comfortable experience.
The Michigan Science Center's Early Learning Space on the lower level has a variety of sensory-friendly interactives, such as plush toys and building materials. It also has soft seating and is an enclosed space with a marked entrance and exit. This space is designed for early childhood learners (ages 0-5) and guests with sensory sensitivities.
Mi-Sci also has sensory backpacks available by request at the box office. The backpacks include noise-reducing headphones, child-size sunglasses, a laminated museum map and visitor guide, and a variety of fidget toys.
Go Prepared: There is a lot to explore at Mi-Sci. Check out the layout and exhibits on the website beforehand. Choose the top attractions and direct the family to those first. That way, if it gets too overstimulating and it’s time to call it quits, you’ve seen what you’re most interested in.
Step into the magical world of Peppa Pig and experience a sensory-friendly morning filled with fun and adventure.
With reduced lighting and sound, and the removal of distracting stimuli, this event is perfectly tailored for families with children on the autism spectrum. Make lasting memories and enjoy a relaxed and stress-free experience at Peppa Pig World of Play.
Go Prepared: Arrive early to take advantage of the reduced lighting and noise environment.
The Detroit Zoological Society embraces diversity, including neurodiverse individuals, and is committed to accommodating their needs. Their staff has been trained to recognize guests with sensory needs and handle sensory-overload situations through the Michigan Autism Safety Training (MAST) and K CultureCity's certification process.
They also offer sensory bags equipped with helpful tools and a dedicated sensory room for guests who may need a quieter and more secure space, along with social narratives to prepare for a visit.
Go Prepared: Download the KultureCity App for iOS or Android devices to use as a resource before and during your visit.
Santa warmly welcomes children of all ages and abilities! Autism Speaks partners with Cherry Hill Programs during the holiday season to offer sensory-friendly Santa experiences for families.
All families with children who have autism and other special needs are able to cherish the time-honored tradition of visiting Santa in a peaceful and serene environment.
Sensory-friendly Santa events are free, and keepsake photo packages will be available for purchase.
Go Prepared: Reserve your spot in advance.
Sensory Santa at Twelve Oaks Mall
This holiday season, make your family's visit with Santa truly special with a sensory-friendly experience! Twelve Oaks Mall is proud to partner with Cherry Hill Programs to create a calm and comforting environment for children of all ages and abilities.
With reduced lighting and noise, kids can take their time and share their Christmas wish list with Santa. Sensory-friendly Santa events are free, and keepsake photo packages will be available for purchase. Go Prepared: Be sure to RSVP early to secure your spot for this one-of-a-kind Santa experience!
Emagine Entertainment Sensory-Friendly Movies
Emagine Entertainment is dedicated to creating a movie-going experience that is inclusive and accessible to everyone, which is why they offer Sensory-Friendly Movies.
During these special screenings, the house lights are kept brighter, and the volume is lowered to accommodate those with sensory needs. Additionally, guests are free to move, speak, sing, and even use electronic devices during the movie and bring a safe snack to accommodate any food allergies or restrictions.
Go Prepared: Bring a safe snack you know they'll enjoy.
Chuck E. Cheese Sensory Friendly Sundays (Canton and Sterling Heights Locations)
Every Sunday, Chuck E. Cheese transforms into a sensory-friendly paradise, creating a welcoming atmosphere for all children. The lights are dimmed, and the noise is reduced, offering a peaceful environment for children to play and enjoy their favorite games. The staff is trained and compassionate, always on hand to assist and ensure each child has a fun and memorable experience.
Go Prepared: Explain what to expect, and bring items that may comfort your child, such as headphones or a favorite toy.