For many parents, coming up with family vacation ideas is fun and exciting. Yet for families traveling with someone on the autism spectrum, planning autism-friendly getaways can also be daunting and riddled with anxiety.
Fortunately, destinations are better prepared to help families with children with autism today than ever before. While Wichita is the largest city in Kansas, it remains easy to navigate, has ample parking, consists of wide open spaces and has many other attributes that make it attractive to families traveling with children with autism. Plus, there are many attractions that are autism friendly.
Before we jump in, we want to acknowledge autism is a spectrum, and that children with autism have unique sensory needs and these suggestions may not work for everyone. We hope that with this list, you may find a few places and activities to put on your list if you are planning to visit Wichita.
Great Plains Nature Center
Open air and free admission make this nature center a great place for families with a child with autism. Even if things don’t go as planned and you have to leave shortly after arrival, it’s free so you can come and go to fit your needs. The indoor museum features animals of the plains and an aquarium. Bring a quarter for turtle food before heading out to the wildlife trails at Chisholm Creek Park, which is just outside the doors of the museum.
Other museums and attractions with free admission include the Wichita Art Museum on Saturdays, Wichita-Sedgwick Co. Historical Museum and Old Cowtown Museum on Sundays, CityArts, Mark Arts, The Original Pizza Hut Museum, Ulrich Museum of Art and the Great Plains Transportation Museum.
Want to avoid crowds and get some fresh air? Outdoor activities children on the spectrum may enjoy going on a hunt for murals, exploring parks and outdoor areas like Pawnee Prairie Park and experiencing the Keeper of the Plains Plaza. Enjoy a variety of activities with little to no wait time at O.J. Watson Park. There are paddle boats, a train ride, a playground and a mini golf course.
Wichita Public Library - Advanced Learning Library
As the largest and newest public library facility in Wichita, the Advanced Learning Library is a great resource and place to find quiet, cozy nooks. Plus, they recently opened a STEAM Learning Garden. It features interactive play stations that promote learning skills related to science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.
Stearman Field Bar & Grill
Autism families know all too well the challenges of dining out. Not only does Stearman Field Bar & Grill have ample space to enjoy a meal on their indoor/outdoor patio, they also have a playground nearby for children of all abilities to burn off some energy. And don’t forget the planes that are likely to be taking off and landing just feet from the patio! Stearman is located just northeast of the city, so be prepared for a short drive to get there from the city. Other eateries that feature a patio where you may find a quiet, cozy spot to enjoy a meal include Dempsey’s Burger Pub or Ziggy's Pizza in Clifton Square, Prost in Revolutsia, all four Meddys locations (Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Old Town, and West) and Sweet Allie B’s Limestone Beer Co.
Or, order carryout from downtown eateries like Old Mill Tasty Shop, The Kitchen, Nortons Brewing Co., Bite Me BBQ and Homegrown Wichita and enjoy the newly-redesigned Naftzger Park, which features plenty of available outdoor seating throughout the park.
If your child with autism has a specific interest, check out our list of museums by topic:
- Dinosaurs – Museum of World Treasures and Field Station: Dinosaurs
- Flowers and Gardening – Botanica Wichita and Great Plains Nature Center
- Aviation and planes – Kansas Aviation Museum and B-29 Doc Hangar, Education & Visitor Center
- History and the Old West – Old Cowtown Museum and Wichita-Sedgwick Co. Historical Museum
- Animals – Sedgwick County Zoo, Tanganyika Wildlife Park, Kansas Wildlife Exhibit at Riverside Park
- Trains – Great Plains Transportation Museum and Wichita Toy Train Club & Museum