Summer means a change in routine. As children leave the classroom, parents look for fun, engaging activities for their kids.

Easterseals Midwest, one of the leading providers of autism and developmental disability services in the state of Missouri, is kicking off summer by naming the top ten places throughout St. Louis that go above and beyond in providing safe, inclusive experiences for children with developmental disabilities.

Summer means a change in routine. As children leave the classroom, parents look for fun, engaging activities for their kids. For parents who have children with developmental disabilities, finding safe, accessible summer activities can be challenging. According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is now estimated that one in 59 children has autism.

“For a child with autism and sensory-sensitivities, the customary noises, busyness, lights, and crowds of popular family destinations can be overwhelming and stressful,” said Melanie Mills, Director, Autism Services St. Louis, Easterseals Midwest. “We have seen various organizations throughout the St. Louis region step up to meet this need for sensory-friendly activities.”

Easterseals Midwest tapped the experience of the organization’s direct support professionals who work with children with development disabilities every day to develop the following top ten list of St. Louis destinations.  “Our hope is to help Missouri’s kids have a safe and fun summer, no matter their level of ability,” Mills added.

10. Artists First STL

This nonprofit art studio, located in Maplewood, offers a weekly Youth Open Studio time. Children of all abilities have the opportunity to explore their creative interests in this welcoming environment. The artists who guide the sessions have received training in working with people who have disabilities.

9. AMC Theatres 

On the second and fourth Saturday of each month, AMC offers Sensory-Friendly Films. With quieter sound and brighter lighting, families can enjoy a film while also having the freedom and flexibility to move around the theater.

8. The Magic House

In partnership with KEEN St. Louis, the Magic House offers sensory-friendly playtime throughout the year. The next playdate is June 16 from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Children can explore the Magic House and also take a break in the calming corner. Families can register at http://www.keenstlouis.org/magic.

7. Saint Louis Zoo

Every second Saturday is Sensory Saturday at the zoo’s Wild Wonder Outpost Discovery Room. From 9:30-10:15 a.m., children with sensory-sensitivities can discover and learn in a safe environment. The Zoo also offers a visual schedule that parents can show their children before they visit.

6. St. Louis County Library

Everyone enjoys a good story. Both the Weber Road and Prairie Commons branches offer year-round Sensory Story Times for children ages 3 to 9 years old. These inclusive events are held twice a month. Starting in July, the Daniel Boone Branch will also offer two Sensory Story Times per month.

5. Missouri Botanical Garden

A beautiful place to visit any time of the year, Missouri Botanical Garden provides a calming corner for children with autism and sensory-needs. Families may check out the visual schedule and social story provided by the Garden on their website. Additionally, children may explore the Zimmerman Sensory Garden where they can touch and smell multi-sensory plants.

4. Bounce U of Saint Louis

Families can enjoy Bounce U of Saint Louis in a safe environment during their monthly sensory-friendly playtime. This playtime is scheduled for one hour on the first Wednesday of the month. Registration for this event is required.

3. Unlimited Playgrounds

Begun in 2003, Unlimited Playgrounds provides a safe, accessible place for children of all abilities to play and make friends. There are six playground locations in St. Charles and St. Louis Counties.

2. KEEN St. Louis 

This nonprofit provides year-round programs for children with physical and developmental disabilities. Children can engage in noncompetitive sports, swimming, and music and singing. Additionally, KEEN offers the program Best Buddies for people ages 14 to 21. Participants with and without disabilities have the opportunity to become friends and join in fun social activities together.

1. We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym

This gym is designed specifically for children with autism. Complete with therapy equipment, this sensory-safe gym strives to provide a safe, inclusive place for children to play and grow. There are two locations in the St. Louis region, Fenton and St. Ann.