Only recently has our understanding of the autism spectrum given us insight on the care and needs of children diagnosed with any of the neurodevelopment conditions autism can encompass. The spectrum is very large, varying and unique to each child. With a better comprehension comes a more involved community, and every day it’s becoming more and more common to find businesses or places that are spectrum aware or built for accessibility. No matter where a child is on the spectrum, the suggestions below are activities for children with different energy levels, physical levels and focus levels!
Access 2 Card
Before I go into my list of recommendations, I should mention the Access 2 Card that grants free admission to select venues. Persons with a permanent disability who require a support person when attending a movie or other attraction are eligible to apply for this card. There are no age restrictions. The Access 2 Card is accepted at entertainment venues and cinemas across Canada, including Cineplex Entertainment, Empire Theatres, Landmark Cinemas and AMC Theatres, as well as select local museums, science centres, theme parks, recreational facilities and more.
The following attractions are free under the Access 2 Card:
North Vancouver: Capilano Suspension Bridge
Aldergrove : Greater Vancouver Zoo
Richmond: Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site
Vancouver: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
H.R. MacMillan Space Centre
Museum of Vancouver
Museum of Anthropology
Pacific National Exhibition
PuSh International Performing Arts Festival
Vancouver Art Gallery
Vancouver Fringe Festival
You can also receive reduced travel fares on BC Ferries as well! For more information and to apply for the Disability Status ID card, visit the BC Ferries website. You also may be eligible to camp for free at BC Parks as well. Check out more information here.
British Columbia is home to many hikes for your family to explore. Child-friendly hikes include Alice Lake and Dog Mountain. There are both short and long trails depending on how much energy your child has! You can still get a lot in little time spent here!
An out of city recommendation is Belcarra Regional Park in Port Moody. There is a bit of a drive, but parking is pretty abundant when you arrive. There are a ton of short trails to do in a manageable amount of time in case the drive is too long for your child. In this instance, you can easily have lunch in the picnic area near the beach and enjoy Sasamat Lake. Jericho Beach is a scenic west end view and is easily accessible by car. The parking lot is near the beach, which can keep frustration levels down! There is a lot of space to run and enjoy, bunnies hopping around and loads of trees to climb.
An alternative is Kitsilano Beach Park: it is a sensory park that just happens to be one of three inclusive parks built in the 2010 Olympic Games. The park features rubber safety surfacing that is wheelchair friendly! If your kids loves to focus in and play with objects, the park offers a spinning climber, a sand play table, sensory garden areas, a play tower, and saucer swings! If your child just loves to fidget and focus in for a bit, this is the perfect spot.
Science World has lots of interactive displays that teach kids about the natural world, physics, kinetics and other sciences. Science World is great because as a parent you can show your child a map or plan which area of interest they’d like to explore before or as you enter the venue to keep them focused and happy. Check out this autism-friendly guide to prepare for your visit. The animal and reading area can be a very serene retreat to allow the child to return to an emotional calm to then learn and explore without feeling too overwhelmed.
If you have the Access 2 card, the Vancouver Aquarium is another venue where parking is easy and there’s lots of sea life to look at. There is a play area and many exhibits are interactive. For example, children can stick their heads into a dome inside an aquarium and gaze at fish from an underwater POV! If things become too overwhelming, you can go on a brisk walk outside along the seawall of Stanley Park or have a picnic. (For a list of accessible services they provide, click here.)
If your family loves movies and seeks more accessible theatre adventures, SilverCity Riverport Cinema offers screenings presented in a lights up, sound down environment, tailored as a sensory-aware experience. It is perfect for children who need a break from the usual excitement of a loud and dark cinema!
Creativity and Cats
Is your child more of an artist? 4Cats Studio is extremely family-friendly and has lots of simple art classes that the whole family can do together! Lots of time is designated per class to create art, but please advise the instructor if they can help your child out in any way.
Maybe your child is an animal lover! If so you need to visit Vancouver’s Cat Cafe. You have to make a reservation to go inside the cafe, but you get an hour of playing with cats while drinking hot chocolate. The good part is that the activity is fairly short, good for low energy children. The cafe is only open to a certain number of people at any one time to keep the kitties calm! Vancouver is both a beautiful and receptive city, with countless things to try on foot, by transit, or by car.
Whether your child loves the great outdoors, building things or just has a lot of energy to burn, Vancouver and the cities around it have it all! Have fun!
Are there any we have missed? Let us know your favourite spectrum-friendly places your family enjoys. We’d love your recommendations.
Written by Nathalie De Los Santos
Nathalie was born in Vancouver, where she studied film, video and integrated media at Emily Carr University. She proceeded into the fast-paced tech environment where she continued to hone her skills with a focus on photography and graphic design. She currently works as a graphic designer on the North Shore. With encouragement from friends and neighbours, Nathalie began her career as a successful wedding photographer in 2016, among other freelance work. In her free time, Nathalie loves hiking, playing interesting video games, and enjoying screenings at film festivals. Grateful for the beautiful Vancouver scenery, and the vibrant and friendly community, Nathalie continues doing what she loves to do; by documenting day to day Vancouver life.”