Six Local Spots Kids With Sensory Sensitivity Can Enjoy

From sensory-friendly movie showings to stores that specialize in sensory toys, these local spots offer activities every family member can enjoy.

Photograph courtesy of Serhii Bobyk/

Family outings are made all the more difficult when a member has a sensory sensitivity. A dark theater or bustling crowds can become overwhelming at best and tantrum-inducing at worst. Luckily, sensory-friendly options that take place outside regular business hours and feature reduced noise levels are becoming more common.

“This is something families have been wanting for years,” says Kelley Johnson, the preschool director for Butler County Educational Service Center in Hamilton. “[Businesses are] taking into consideration what those families need for children to participate in everyday events we take for granted.”

Most commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder can also accompany disabilities including Down syndrome, oppositional defiant disorder and Rett syndrome. A number of families at the service center take advantage of local sensory friendly options, Johnson says. These are some of their favorites.

Catch sensory-friendly showings at local movie theaters

AMC partners with the Autism Society for sensory-friendly film showings, where the lights are turned up, the sound is turned down, and viewers are welcome to get up. The Sensory Friendly Film program is the second and fourth Saturdays of every month for family friendly movies and Wednesday evenings for mature movies. Local participating theaters include AMC Newport on the Levy 20.

Cobb Theatres also offer sensory-friendly showings, with brighter lights and softer sounds, and they encourage attendees to interact with the movie. Families can find sensory-friendly showings at Cobb Liberty Luxury Theatres in Liberty Township.

Avoid long lines at Kings Island

The Boarding Pass Program at Kings Island lets guests with sensory sensitivities avoid waiting in lines by accessing rides through the exit ramp. Their website also provides tips for a sensory friendly visit to the park, like using the KidTrack wrist band program and stroller rental.

Enjoy Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s sensory bags

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden offers a number of accommodations for a sensory-friendly visit, including sensory bags, which are filled with oral motor chewy tubes, fidget toys, bubble makers, sunglasses, and noise-canceling headphones; a sensory-friendly restroom; and sensory maps, which show sensory-friendly family restrooms, calm spaces, a list of sensory areas like the 4-D theatre and petting zoo, and where to check out a sensory bag.

Participate in special rehearsals at Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

The orchestra hosts sensory-friendly rehearsals throughout the year, turning up the house lights, offering accessible seating and amenities, and allowing audience members to make noise and move around, including entering and exiting the theater. It also provides designated quiet areas and trained volunteers and staff. The next rehearsal is Peter and the Wolf at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24 at Music Hall.

Experience The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati’s exclusive sensory-friendly performances

The sensory-friendly performances at the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati are closed to the general public, limiting audience members to those with sensory sensitivity and their family and friends. During these performances, the theater adjusts lighting and sound. It minimizes fog and strobing effects, and sets up a staffed space in the lobby where audience members can take a break, if needed. Upcoming performances include Annie Jr. at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 8, and Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical at 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29.

Shop for loved ones with sensory sensitivities at Puzzle Pieces

Puzzle Pieces in Symmes Township is a sensory-friendly store that specializes in sensory toys, accessories, and clothing. It also sells items to create sensory rooms and install therapy swings.

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