Summer fun in metro Detroit: Helping kids with special needs enjoy summer outings

boy in kayak simulator

Summertime in Michigan quite possibly makes the rest of the year in the mitten state that much more tolerable. The only downside to June, July and August is the fact that there aren’t enough days to experience all the local fairs, festivals and outdoor activities.

Venues such as Greenfield Village, the Detroit Zoo, and the area’s many parks and pools, are tried-and-true destinations but there are so many more ways to make the most out of what will hopefully be another glorious Michigan summer.

Since I happen to be the parent of a child with autism, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to accommodate my son while enjoying the next 11 weeks of vacation. Because this time of year can be particularly challenging for a child with a disability, included are some options and suggestions for kids like mine.

Today we’re focusing on activities that are new this area, as well as a fun “Day in the D.” Then, check back on Thursday this week for some other creative options!

New to do

  • Last year we saw the opening of several great family friendly venues, including the LEGOLAND Discovery Center at Great Lakes Crossing. The Detroit Zoo debuted the eagerly awaited Polk Penguin Conservation Center, and the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center brought a taste of the great outdoors to an indoor facility downtown.
  • This year, after more than a decade of planning, the much-anticipated QLine streetcar system along Woodward Avenue is finally open! Kids under 44 inches can ride free with an adult. A single-ride pass, good for three hours, costs $1.50 and an all-day pass is $3. Riders have easy access to the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Michigan Science Center, Comerica Park and Campus Martius Park.
  • What else is new? How about free movies at Emagine theatres? On select Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10 a.m., participating locations will screen popular kids films such as “Kung Fu Panda 3,” “The Secret Life of Pets,” “Trolls” and “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.” Admission is free for kids 11 and under and $2 for moviegoers 12 and up.
  • Need a sensory friendly film option? AMC Theatres offer the perfect venue on the second and fourth Saturday of each month with a family friendly movie. Tuesday evening movies offer options for more mature audiences. Participating Emagine theatres also have a lineup of sensory-friendly films for the summer.
  • Also relatively new, and unlike any place around, is Play-Place for Autistic Children. This 25,000 square-foot facility, located in Sterling Heights, houses a computer café, art studio, carousel, LEGO castle, laser light chalk room, calming rooms and so much more.

A Day in the D

In addition to a ride on the QLine, there is so much to do in Detroit. See why the rest of the nation is calling Detroit the comeback city.

  • The Detroit RiverWalk stretches several miles along the Detroit River. In additional to great views, there are plenty of places to explore. Highlights for the little ones include a splash pad, play park and river-themed carousel at Rivard Plaza. There, visitors will find a granite map of the Detroit River, a glass sculptured map of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the RiverWalk café, and Wheelhouse Detroit. This bike shop offers tours as well as bike rentals in a wide variety of bikes, including large tricycles (great for those who need an adaptive set of wheels) and kids bikes.
  • Also located at the Plaza is Diamond Jack’s River Tours, a company offering public tours and private charters along the Detroit River.
  • Elliott Park, located on the East Riverfront, features a Great Lakes themed play area with water cascades, cannons, wind chimes and other kid-friendly, interactive features. The newly renovated park was designed to be accessible to users of all ages and abilities.
  • When’s the last time you visited Belle Isle? There is so much to do on this 987-acre island. Here are seven things your family can enjoy during your visit.
  1. See the James Scott Memorial Fountain
  2. Visit the Dossin Great Lakes Museum
  3. Go to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
  4. Check out the oldest aquarium in the United States
  5. Swim at the Belle Isle Beach
  6. Ride the giant slide
  7. Enjoy the small, but free, nature zoo

A few general tips to an enjoyable summer include calling ahead to discuss your child’s needs and asking what accommodations, if any, can be made. If crowds are a problem, ask about the best times to come.

– Jen Lovy, Beaumont Parenting Program volunteer

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