My thirteen-year-old son has autism, and we live in the greatest city in the world—New York City! The one thing we do not have is a backyard, so anything I can find to do with him outside is wonderful. I am always looking for fun places to take him where there are things that he will be able to do and enjoy. In Central Park, there are a variety of things that work really well for him. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Central Park Zoo
What a perfect area for a child with a short attention span! The exhibits are spacious and spread out so you do not feel crowded. There are plenty of benches if your child, like mine, needs to take breaks. Bathrooms are easily accessible too. There are a variety of animals to see, from the Penguin House to the Sea Lion Show to feeding the animals in the petting zoo. There's certainly something for every child.
2. The Carousel
This is one of my son's favorite things to do in the park. He can choose from sitting on one of the funky looking benches or hop up on to a horse of his choice, and of course strap on his seatbelt. The benefit of the carousel being quite large is that the line moves rather quickly. At $3.00 a ride, it is definitely worth a try.
3. The Sailboats
You can rent a remote-controlled sailboat in Central Park...who knew! I wasn't sure how this would go, but we had a lot of fun. It was great to watch my son try and navigate boat #21 around the pond, for him to try to figure out the control panel and move the boat in the directions I asked of him. We did the basic rental which was $11.00 for 30 minutes—the perfect amount of time!
There are so many playgrounds to choose from! It is all about what you want for your child. A large space, a small space, water, sand...you will definitely find one that will suit your child's needs. I usually look for ones that are not that crowded so I am sure to be able to see my son at all times, and on a hot day, a little shade is nice! We like Ancient Playground which is not far from the Met and also the East 72nd St Playground.
5. Rock Climbing
Have you ever noticed all the giant boulders in the park? My son loves to climb, so there is no better place to be. It is a great way for him to let out some extra energy and enjoy the view from high up. I think he enjoys the quiet and peaceful feeling up there. Just remember, once they climb up, they have to climb back down.
6. Row Boats at Loeb Boathouse
I was initially unsure of how this activity would go, but it was a big hit! My son had never been on a boat this size, but he really seemed to enjoy it! While us adults did all the work, he sat back and enjoyed the motion and the view. At times he even chimed in with a faster or slower order for us. They have lots of boats so even with a bit of a line we moved rather quickly. It's $15/hr, cash only, and each boat holds up to four people.
7. Picnic Lunch
Having a picnic in the park is a great way to relax and refuel before doing some more activities. There are so many locations to choose from! I looked for a spot that was not too crowded, where we would have some space and not feel like we were on top of others. With cold water and our favorite snacks, we can spend some good down time just relaxing and sitting on our comfy blanket, really enjoying our "Backyard."
These are my favorite things to do in Central Park with my son who has autism. The whole family can enjoy them and he can be part of it all, and it is right here in our very own city!