Philadelphia's sensory-friendly attractions and performances

- Today, the Philadelphia region offers a growing list of attractions and performances that all visitors can enjoy—including those on the autism spectrum.

Here’s a look at Philadelphia venues and groups that have recently expanded their sensory-friendly programming:

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Philadelphia’s dinosaur museum offers children with autism and their families exclusive Access to Science six Saturday or Sunday mornings (9 – 11 a.m.) per year. For these occasions and any day, visual, easy-to-follow pre-visit Museum Stories help prepare visitors of all developmental abilities for exploring

Sept. 23, Oct. 20 and Dec. 28 | 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19103 | 215-299-1060

Adventure Aquarium

The Delaware River Waterfront, home to blue penguins, a hammerhead shark and approximately 8,500 additional aquatic species, is holding its first sensory-friendly event in 2018. The aquarium has partnered with South Jersey-based Samulance to produce F.I.S.H.: Family Inclusive Special Hours, when the already largely dimly lit venue further adjusts lighting and sound levels to create a relaxed setting for all visitors.

Aug. 4 | 1 Riverside Drive, Camden, NJ 08103 | 844-474-FISH

Brandywine River Museum of Art

A bucolic campus surrounds galleries known for three generations of Wyeths, which open three times per year for free Sensory-Friendly Saturdays. Registered families receive pre-visit social stories and enjoy hands-on activities, along with support from experienced volunteers, fidgets, noise-cancelling headphones and sensory break areas.

Dates TBA | 1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford, PA 19317 | 610-388-8120

The Franklin Institute

On five Sensory-Friendly Sundays per year, the Tri-State Area’s most-visited museum opens its doors early, modifies exhibits and employs trained staff and volunteers to create a comfortable environment for visitors on the autism spectrum. Guests who pre-register are admitted free of charge, as are visitors who arrive before 9:30 a.m. The event ends at noon. Every day, sensory maps are available for permanent and temporary exhibits.

Oct. 28, Dec. 2 | 222 N. 20th St., Philadelphia, PA 19103 | 215-448-1200

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Philadelphia

On Special Sensory Days from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at this indoor Montgomery County attraction, staff trained with The Ruttenberg Autism Center help create a calm, quiet, gentle environment for children to play with the world’s most popular toys. Break rooms, reduced light, music therapy and pre- and during-visit social stories are available to families, along with a reduced ticket price.

Aug. 14 | Plymouth Meeting Mall, 500 W. Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462 | 267-245-9696

Penn Museum

This artifact-filled museum offers a sensory-friendly map that highlights quiet, dimly lit and quiet spaces among the galleries, along with a customizable visual schedule. On select Saturday mornings, Archaeology in the A.M. events open the museum early to teens and young adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities with multisensory activities that include craft stations, music-making, ancient games, interactive gallery tours and a dedicated quiet space with dimmed lights and fidgets, all free with admission.

Sept. 22 | 3260 South St. Philadelphia, PA 19104 | 215-898-4000

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Sensory-Friendly Mornings at the children’s summertime Art Splash program (this year’s theme: Bright Lights, Little City) mean lights, volume and crowds are turned down in the second-floor space. The hour also offers sensory break areas, on-hand occupational therapists and hands-on art activities geared toward many developmental levels. Registered participants receive a pre-visit social guide.

Aug. 22, Aug. 25 | 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway | 215-763-8100

Philadelphia Zoo

America’s first zoo worked with the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to create KidZooU, a hands-on, child-centric exhibit that uses the Universal Design concept to offer an inclusive, enriching experience for children. Pre-visit materials, including a picture-exchange system, are available on the zoo’s website.

3400 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19104 | 215-243-1100

Please Touch Museum

The founding premise of this boundless little kid destination: Children learn through play. The West Fairmount Park museum has dedicated quiet spaces and staff trained to help all types of children, including those who’d like to borrow sound-reducing headphones. Four Sunday mornings per year, “Play Without Boundaries” serves children with learning and developmental disabilities and on the autism spectrum by offering a modified, sensory-friendly, all-access museum experience augmented with Floreo virtual reality, therapy animals and visits from community health experts.

Aug. 5, more dates TBA | Memorial Hall, 4231 Avenue of the Republic | 215-581-3181

Sesame Place

Just over 25 miles northeast of Center City, this vibrant amusement and water park, home to Elmo, Big Bird, Abby and Julia, has trained its staff in sensory awareness, motor and social skills, emotional awareness and communication. Sesame Place offers designated quiet rooms, low-sensory areas and a sensory guide for its attractions.

100 Sesame Road, Langhorne, PA 19047 | 215-702-3566

Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

The centerpiece of the Avenue of the Arts offers its very first Broadway Philadelphia sensory-friendly production of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical. The show runs from December 19 to Dec. 29). The morning setup includes relaxed house rules, designated quiet areas, trained staff and Art-Reach volunteers and sensory-friendly kits (noise-cancelling headphones, weighted beanbags, fidget toys). Audience members are welcome to bring their own sensory-friendly stress relief devices and move about as they wish.

December 22 | Merriam Theater, 300 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19102 | 215-893-1999

Montgomery Theater

This intimate venue puts on one relaxed performance per family musical, play or comedy, offering pre-visit materials, partially up house lights, loosened rules, quiet space, sound mitigation and a modified refund policy. The next such performance is Christmas of Swing.

Nov. 17 | 124 N. Main St., Souderton, PA 18964 | 215-723-9984

Pennsylvania Ballet

Each winter, Philadelphia’s eminent ballet company offers its sensory-friendly performance of the popular George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Pre-show materials guide patrons on going to the theater, the stories behind the choreography, music, setting and characters. The theater adjusts sound and lighting and relaxes its rules—free movement and expression are welcome—and adds a quiet space and gluten-free concessions.

Dec. 27 | Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19102 | 215-551-7000

People’s Light

The mission of this large, nonprofit, professional suburban theater is education through performance. During Relaxed Performances, the house becomes a shush-free zone, so patrons with autism, ADD, ADHA, dementia and sensory sensitivities can freely express themselves during musicals and more. House lights remain low, startling lighting is reduced, sounds levels are lowered, crowds are limited, the lobby opens a quiet area and fidget, stress-sensory toys and disposable earplugs are available.

39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA 19355 | 610-644-3500

Philadelphia Orchestra

The orchestra has long shared its talents with children and families during their Sound All Around concerts, held on the comfortable carpet of the Academy of Music ballroom. The group also designates the Saturday edition of these popular, intimate performances as sensory-friendly. In 2017, the full orchestra gave its first formal sensory-friendly performance, and henceforth these concerts—and most family concerts—have featured a no-shush policy, cool-down spaces, lighting adjustments, trained helpers and both planned and impromptu interaction between musicians and audience members.

Sept. 15, Oct. 20, Dec. 1 | Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19102 | 215-893-1900

Philadelphia Theatre Company

All of the upcoming season’s productions at this Avenue of the Arts innovator include a sensory-friendly (and open caption) matinee, including for adult productions Sweat (Nov. 3, 2018), Bridges of Madison County (March 2, 2019) and How to Catch Creation (April 13, 2019), and for the popular children’s Princess Holiday Concert (Dec. 16, 2018).

Suzanne Roberts Theatre | 400 S. Broad St. | 215-985-0420

The Philly POPS

Known for symphonic versions of stage, blues, jazz, swing and popular tunes, this orchestra offers a sensory-friendly performance of its winter holiday concert. Broadway’s Todd Ellison conducts and Hamilton’s Mandy Gonzalez sings in A Philly POPS Christmas: Spectacular Sounds of the Season, with a judgement-free environment, mid-level sound and light, trained staff, break space and fidget devices.

Dec. 5 | Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19102 | 215-893-1999

Theatre Horizon

This Montgomery Country theater began offering an Autism Drama Program a decade ago and has served 680 children and adults in six-week, spring-through-fall sessions. Each season brings relaxed performances of major productions, such as The Color Purple on Dec. 1, with another to be announced for spring 2019’s The Few.

401 DeKalb St., Norristown, PA 19401 | 610-283-2230

Walnut Street Theatre

America’s oldest continuously operating theater offers sensory-friendly productions of its kids’ shows (so far in 2018: Ivy + Bean) and is planning a sensory-friendly performance for adults on the spectrum in the coming season. The company also offers a 10-week course of weekly acting classes for children on the spectrum, a program that uses theater exercises and games and culminates in the class creating its very own performance.

825 Walnut St. | 215-574-3550

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