Chicago venues that cater to kids with special needs

Written by: Evelyn Perez-Horita

As parents to a wonderful, energetic special needs 8-year-old, my husband and I are constantly thinking of ways to enjoy our chaotic lives as much as possible. And because our lives are anything but "normal," it’s not always easy to enjoy all the typical fun things like dining out, going to live theatre, visiting a museum or taking a vacation. We are always fearful that Lia will act out because of boredom, frustration or sensory overload. If she gets upset, it is money wasted because you leave so other paying patrons can actually enjoy their experiences.

But the good news is Chicago has come a long way in making life more enjoyable for those with special needs! The entertainment industry is finally listening and becoming more inclusive. Here are our favorite Chicago-area spots that are especially accommodating to kids with special needs.

Restaurants: Via VenetoMany restaurants can be accommodating, all you need to do is call beforehand and explain your child's needs. If they are not willing to help, then they are not worthy of your business. A recent trip to Via Veneto was so positive they deserve a special shout out! We called them last minute on Mother’s Day and explained our situation. They said they were very family friendly we should be fine. A little while later we received a call from the owner (thank you, caller ID) that offered to give us one of their banquet rooms all to ourselves! Lia got to eat and run around in this big room! We finally got to enjoy a relaxing meal without the worry of disturbing others. Thank you, Via Veneto!

There are also some restaurants that offer a special-needs night courtesy of Autism Eats, a non-profit that partners with local restaurants to offer special-needs nights featuring buffet or family-style service and adjusted music and lighting.

Hotels: Chicago Marriot Northwest. Recently we were given a certificate for a one-night stay at this hotel, but Lia has terrible sleep issues and falls out of a regular bed. We contacted the hotel and they said they would do what they could to help. We arrived and someone was waiting for us to make sure the mattress they put on the floor with rails and pillows would work out. We had the best time even when she had a tantrum in the hotel restaurant. The manager came over to us to assure all was ok. I can’t stress enough how amazing this was for us! 

Theaters: Lifeline Theatre Sensory Friendly ShowBlue Man Group. All lower the sound, turn up lights and let your kiddo run around and provide places to retreat for those that need some quiet. Some also offer headphones, fidgets, social narratives and parent guides to support your kiddo. New this year: Goodman Theatre is offering a sensory-friendly version of A Christmas Carol!

Movies: AMC Sensory Friendly Movies are on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month and Studio Movie Grill Sensory Friendly Movies are monthly. Theatre lights are turned up, sound is lowered and there are no previews!!

Places to play: 

The Playground for Everyone: Amazing park in Elmhurst created for kids of all abilities. Lia can do a mini zip line safely!
Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm Special Needs WeekendsThe pre-registration date has passed to gain free admission the Oct. 28-29 special-needs weekend at this pumpkin farm, but all special needs families are still welcome to attend! In addition to pumpkin picking, there's zip lines, pony rides, corn maze, train rides and more.
The Field Museum Sensory Saturdays: The Crown Family PlayLab opens one hour early (9-10am) for special-needs families, then you can explore the rest of the museum for free all day. Must pre-register.
Chicago Children's Museum Play for All days: On the second Saturday of every month, the museum opens an hour early for families and children with disabilities. The first 250 to register gets free admission. 
Kohl Children’s Museum's Everyone at Play days: Monthly Sundays from 9:30-11:30am are reserved for special-needs families. 
DuPage Children’s Museum's Family Night Out and Third Thursdays: See website for details. 

Parents, get out there and have some fun with your kiddos! We all deserve it! 

Evelyn Perez-Horita lives in Lincoln Square with her husband, Brian, and 8-year-old daughter, Lia. She's a full-time account manager/client care representative, co-parent and advocate, special needs entertainment blogger and local school council (LSC) board member at Beard Elementary School. In all of her spare time, she loves to hold 6am family dance parties!

Related articles: 

How to advocate for your special-needs child in CPS

Transition from summer to school year with these tips

The basics of IEPs

The NPN blog gives voice to our members' thoughts about parenting in the city, and the views expressed don't necessarily reflect our own. Want to write for us? Email with your topic ideas.


Posted on October 04, 2017 at 3:07 PM