The autism-friendly kids' guide to Auckland

April 2 marks the start of Autism Awareness Week - here's what's on offer in Auckland
April 2 marks the start of Autism Awareness Week - here's what's on offer in Auckland Photo credit: Getty

Having children is challenging enough, but having one on the autism spectrum takes those challenges and then adds some.

Take an innocent family trip to, say, Auckland Museum. They have the wonderful volcano exhibit, a large imitation volcano that makes noises and radiates an orange light.

Heaven to most kids, but to an autistic child the combination of noise, light and excitement is a recipe for a meltdown.

Trips to the playground, the zoo, the trampoline park can all end the same way. The noise, the other kids and the general buzz of activity cause a sensory overload that is too much for your little child to handle.

The autism spectrum is called that because it is a broad diagnosis with many, many symptoms. A very common thread though is sensitivity to things for most of us our brains just filter out - such as multiple noises, lots of people or even a multitude of different colours. 

Parents of kids on the spectrum know they have to get out and do things, but sometimes the risk of it all going wrong outweighs the benefits.

There aren't many places in New Zealand that cater for autistic children, but the numbers are growing and can provide a godsend for parents. 

This week is Autism Awareness Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness about the condition. There are around 65,000 Kiwis on the autism spectrum, and many of them are children.

So here is our autism-friendly kids' guide to Auckland.

Auckland Museum
Auckland Museum Photo credit: Supplied

Auckland Museum offers sensory learning sessions, where kids can have a hands on experience of the collections. These sessions are for children visiting in school groups, rather than individuals, and include pre-visit one-on-one sessions for kids to set up expectations for their museum trip.

There is also a sensory friendly map of the museum, highling the quietest places to visit and the louder, busier areas of the building. That map is available for printing out here.

Mapura Studios is a creative space that runs offers art classes and art therapy programmes for people of all ages living with disability and diversity, as well as the wider community. On Thursdays they offer an art group for teens with particular provisions for autistic young people.

Takapuna Grammar School is about to become the first school in New Zealand to produce a relaxed performance of a school play. Relaxed performances soften bright lights, reduce noise, and take a more relaxed approach to theatre etiquette such as moving about or making noise. The musical Little Women will show at the end of May at the school hall, 210 Lake Rd, Takapuna, and a chill-out space with quiet activities will be available as well. Contact r.dil@tgs.school.nz for tickets.

The autism-friendly kids' guide to Auckland
Photo credit: File

The Royal New Zealand Ballet also has an upcoming relaxed performance, Ballet in a Box on Tuesday, July 3. The event lasts one hour and is free to attend. This sensory-friendly performance for students will include an opportunity to see the costumes close-up and meet the dancers.

EveryDay OT runs a range of recreational programmes including skateboarding, surfing and swimming. The goal is to maximise participation in activities that can then be generalised into the community.

They also run a fortnightly Friday night games group for young adults aged 12-16 to encourage connection, conversation and friendship skills.

The annual FunFest funfair holds a VIP day - they keep numbers low to ensure the event is calm and sensory sensitive. The event happens every January at held at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau.

Indoor climbing centre Clip 'N Climb in Albany hosts regular climbing sessions for children with autism from four years old and up. Both Clip 'N Climb and Children's Autism Foundation staff attend, to prepare new climbers in advance and support them. This one is particularly popular with dads and their kids, and siblings are welcome to join in too. 

Gymnastics centre Jumping Beans runs sessions for autistic children aged two-and-a-half to six years old. Sessions focus on self-esteem, language, music, dance, motor skills, and are attended by Autism Foundation staff as well as Jumping Beans tutors.

Young girl in pink top and colorful leggings jumps on trampoline in garden.
Photo credit: Getty

Popular trampoline park Jump runs a sensory session, where the lights and music are turned down. Carers can jump for free while children can bounce around to their heart's content.

The Children's Autism Foundation runs Join In social and friendship skills groups for kids aged seven to 16. Kids and parents work on an activity together, and then independently, and build relationships with other children.

The Children's Autism Foundation is raising funds and awareness throughout April. Visit autism.org.nz to learn more.