You can learn more by searching in your local community, online or by connecting with your local ASD support group.
Minnesota state parks and recreation has information on 75 parks and recreation areas to explore statewide. Minnesota state parks preserve the most scenic and historic areas in the state. They offer a variety of facilities, services, and outdoor recreation opportunities. State parks are well developed with modern facilities, but the degree of accessibility varies from park to park.
Adaptive opportunities are available to people with disabilities. Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages these accessible campsites, lodging, hunting, fishing and more. Find fun, health and wellness opportunities being offered by local cities and county for youth and adults. Activities include sensory friendly events, drama classes, music classes, camps, swimming, sports and more.
Let Kids Play! lists accessible playgrounds and programs.
The Autism Society of Minnesota maintains a directory of recreation and leisure opportunities and sensory-friendly events.
Children of all abilities and needs should have room to play and explore their world and surroundings. It’s important with development and human right for children right. Providing a backyard as a sanctuary for children with special needs is a helpful guide to get you started.
Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis offers sensory-friendly programming.
SwimPossible in Minnetonka provides safe, calming and fun lessons that are customized for students who need a gentle approach to learning how to swim. Their method incorporates current swim techniques and elements of water therapy to help students quiet their minds and feel how their bodies move in the water. SwimPossible does not focus on diagnoses or labels. They teach swimming to students of all ages who are not served successfully by traditional lessons, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome, and other sensory and learning differences.
Erik’s Ranch and Retreats provides safe and unequaled living, working, social and recreational environments for young adults with autism, using its guiding principles of lifelong learning and individual community building. They’re committed to giving these individuals a rewarding life on their own terms, experiencing dignity, compassion and the joy of continuing possibility. At Erik's Ranch & Retreats people from all over the world, and sometimes right next-door, stay in one-of-a-kind guest accommodations for business and personal travel. Members proudly live and work on site–offering boutique style accommodations in Edina, MN, and Ranch accommodations in Livingston, MT.
Special Olympics is a global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion and community. They aim to build a culture that accepts and welcomes every single person regardless of ability or disability. They are helping to make the world a better, healthier and more joyful place—one athlete, one volunteer, one family member at a time.
Special Olympics Minnesota (SOMN) trainings and competitions happen all year in locations across the state. They offer 16 Olympic-style sports. As a result, SOMN has something for you, whatever your age or skill level.
Through sports, our athletes celebrate their abilities, not their disabilities. Their world opens with acceptance and understanding, while becoming confident and empowered by their accomplishments. They make new friends, joining the most inclusive community on the planet—a global community that’s growing every day. See the Special Olympics MN website for upcoming events.
Many communities sponsor their own sensory friendly events, respite events, walks and other activities throughout Minnesota. Visit the community education, support groups or advocacy groups in your area to learn about local events in your own community.
Planning Trips for Children with Autism, published by Simmons University is a resource lists with important questions to ask about the readiness of new spaces and offers strategies for planning trips for people with ASD, such as bringing sensory blockers like headphones to crowded destinations. It also includes a trip-planning PDF to help parents get ready for short and long trips with their children.
Packing and other travel tips:
Having a child with special needs can make travel intimidating. Navigating MSP Program helps ease the anxiety with free, monthly practice runs through the airport. A partnership between the Metropolitan Airports Commission, Fraser, and the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM), this program will allow you to:
Register online for an upcoming Navigating MSP event.
View information from the TSA on traveling with disabilities and medical conditions.
You can also read the Navigating MSP social stories now:
The AuSM also helped MSP Airport develop Staying Safe at the Airport (PDF), a social narrative for travel guidelines at the airport during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency. This guide walks through protocols at the airport for wearing masks, social distancing, cleaning procedures, hand sanitizer and more.
Anyone with a disability or traveling with a person with a disability can contact the TSA Cares Helpline. TSA Cares is a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process. Call 72 hours prior at (855) 787-2227. This service is available at ALL airports in the United States.
Can Do Canines is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities by creating mutually beneficial partnerships with specially trained dogs. Since 2007, Can Do Canines has trained Autism Assist Dogs to help provide security and peace of mind to families with children with autism. When in public, the child wears a specially designed belt that connects the dog’s pack to the child while an adult handles the dog’s leash. If the child attempts to run (a common behavior for children with autism), the dog becomes a gentle, steady anchor to keep the child safe until the adult can get the situation under control.
For many of these children, being out in public places is overly stimulating and causes ‘meltdowns’ due to sensory overload. Families now can go out and enjoy a meal in a restaurant, or go to the mall, with less concern that the child will become overstimulated, meltdown or try to run. Autism Assist Dogs also act as a social buffer, so when people talk to the child about their dog it encourages the child to interact and practice verbal skills. Learn more and apply for an autism assist dog.
With a severe shortage of respite care providers in Minnesota, many schools, faith-based and community organizations have started to organize and host their own respite events for children and families. The Minnesota Department of Human Services is providing this information as a public service and does not sponsor or monitor these events hosted by community agencies or organizations.
Here are a few recommendations to get started planning a respite night at your organization.
Another option would be to host event for the parent or caregiver and also provide respite care during that event. For example, having a dinner, dessert or movie night for the caregiver to attend while their child is being cared for in the same building.
Setting up the space
Try to locate a free space to host the event or utilize a community room for a lost cost. Many organizations, such as a library, church, school, fitness or community center, may be willing to their space if you let them know what the purpose of the event is.
Ensure that the space is safe and that there are locks on the doors to prevent children from eloping. Also put up gates or block off access to areas with food or medication or other supplies that may potentially be harmful to the child.
What costs are involved?
When to host your event and for how long
If you can, host a respite night a few times a year. Especially over the summer when schools are out ad some day care providers are on vacation, a respite night would be a welcome opportunity for the family to take a break and recharge.
Plan for the event to be about 3-4 hours long. This will allow enough time for a family to run errands or go have a meal but is also not a huge time commitment for your volunteers.
Recruitment and registration
Create a registration form and have families RSVP by phone or e-mail. If you can, try to set up registration online or electronically. Set up a directory of families who have signed up so you can reach out to them again for future events. Have the family complete an intake form with basic information on the child, including name, age, and emergency contact. Also have them list out any allergies or special diet considerations, medical conditions and a few of the child’s strengths and needs. It is also helpful to include what activities or characters they like to play with and calming techniques that may be helpful. Also have them sign a liability form. Having a picture of the child on file is also recommended. This file can remain with you and can be updated as the child and family attend additional events in the future.
Advertise the event on social media, on flyers throughout the community and at local playgrounds, schools and day care settings.
The night of, have families check-in and place a name tag on their child. Pair the child up with a 1:1 volunteer based on their level of need. Make sure they check-out at the end of the night as well.
You may already have volunteers at your organization. If you need to recruit additional volunteers in the community, consider reaching out to these organizations or groups:
Word of mouth is also great. Ask a volunteer to reach out to their friends and family to recruit additional people. You could also have previous volunteers right up a testimonial of what to expect and share that resource on your website or with prospective organizations who may be unsure if they are equipped to volunteer.
You will want to set up a leadership team of volunteers that are trained and are able to help out others. This team could include:
One example might be a color-coded system.
Red: The child has high needs, requires constant 1:1 supervision and should be paired with an experienced volunteer
Yellow: The child has moderate needs, requires frequent supervision and should be paired with a volunteer that has some prior experience.
Green: The child has low level needs and does not require full time supervision. These children may not need to be paired up with a volunteer the entire time.
Training and orientation
You may want to set up a training or orientation for your leadership team ahead of time and then plan a short training for volunteers on the night of. Give them a tour of the rooms so they are familiar with what is available. Describe to them some of the special needs they may see and how they can help to support that child. You could prepare this information in a brief slide show or put in a packet as well.
Grace Church Respite Nights – A special thank you to Karen Anderson and DeAnn Hopper for all their invaluable insight and recommendations on organizing and hosting a respite night.
Joni and Friends Minnesota – Based in Hopkins, MN, this Joni and Friends location works with local churches and organizations to provide outreach programs that reach individuals and families affected by disability in our community.
Highland Friendship Group in St Paul provides social activities, skills development and community connections for teens and adults with disabilities.
University of Minnesota Social Skills and other therapy services: The University of Minnesota Autism and Neurodevelopment Clinic offers several evidence-based treatment groups throughout the year, including groups to address social skills, making and keeping friends, anxiety, and transitioning to adulthood.
Autism Society of MN (AuSM) offers year-round social skills classes and camps for youth, teens and adults with autism.