Places to Play for Children with Special Health Care Needs in Des Moines

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Places to Play for Children with Special Health Care Needs in Des Moines

Are you having a hard time finding the right place to play with your child who has special health care needs?

Whether you’re a parent, family member, caregiver, or friend I hope the following guide will help lead you in the right direction to find a Place to Play that will be enjoyed by all.  When you have a child with special health care needs, different features in a play area can become necessary for a visit, the Places to Play in our guide have different features but all have interactive and accessible components for children of all abilities and accommodate a variety of learning styles.

Des Moines, Special Needs, Play

In creating this guide, my hope is to encourage you and our communities to think in terms of inclusiveness for children with special health care needs when planning Places to Play.

Here’s a look at some of our favorite spots around town. Have fun playing!

Ankeny Miracle Park All-Inclusive Playground and Field

300 Northwest School Street Ankeny


A fully inclusive environment offering an accessible baseball field and an inclusive playground to welcome children and families of all abilities. The inclusive playground design offers play structures for kids ages 2 to 5 and 5 to 12, both with extensive ramping systems to bring individuals using mobility devices to the center of the action. Inclusive playground components – glider, roller slide, and roller table, spinner, a variety of swing seats and disk swings, sensory play, playground slides, climbers and activity panels make this playground fun for everyone.

Ashley Oakland Star Playground at Ewing Park

1895 E McKinley Avenue Des Moines


All inclusive playground with 50 different play elements, hiking trail, and shelter. The playground caters to children with special needs with adapted playground equipment but encourages play among children of all abilities to break down barriers and foster friendships. Addresses the developmental needs of the child by intentionally
providing opportunities for physical, cognitive, communicative, social/emotional and sensory development.

Backyard Adventures Open Play

3135 99th Street Urbandale


Open Play Time is Monday thru Friday 9 am to 3 pm. Weekdays are for Open Play Time, so come to play in our indoor showroom where the weather is always perfect. Bring your friends for a play date or just come to enjoy the fun and meet some new friends. No open play time on the weekends. $5 for children age 2 and older.

Childserve Therapy Pool

5406 Merle Hay Road, Johnston


Childserve offers a warm water pool that is heated to around 92 degrees. There are several opportunities to swim throughout the week during open swim times. The fee is $4 for the first adult/child pair and $4 for each additional person after that. We accept cash or check (made to ChildServe).

Courage League Sports

Ankeny: 110 N. Ankeny Boulevard; Urbandale: 4405 121st Street

Ankeny: 515-421-4021; Urbandale: 515-421-4020

Indoor gym with staff to provide as much support as needed. Adaptive play, team sports, art, drama music, open play, camps, adaptive swimming, and additional programming. Kids thru adults. Courage League was created to extend the same type of opportunities to those with special needs that other children and adults have for play and recreation. Monthly membership, punch passes or one-time use fee.

Dance Without Limits

4230 101 Street Urbandale


Dance Without Limits is a Non-Profit organization that provides a dance program in Des Moines for children and young adults with special needs who may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience the joy of dance. Our fall and spring sessions are comprised of one-hour classes that are designed to suit each individual’s needs. During classes held once a week, a period of professional dance instruction is provided by instructors and volunteers trained to work with dancers who have special needs. We offer Lite-Gait equipment for children who need extra support with standing. We have a teacher who is able to communicate in American Sign Language, and volunteers who are learning some simple signs. At the end of each session, participants perform in a recital for family and friends. A volunteer to child ratio of 1:1. Cost is $50.00 per 8 to the 10-week session.

Des Moines Civic Center Sensory Friendly Shows

221 Walnut Street Des Moines


Des Moines Performing Arts hosts sensory-friendly show as part of their Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Family Series. Social narrative and picture schedule available for the dedicated performances. Performances are geared for those on the autism spectrum, individuals with other sensory sensitivities and their families. These performances will contain all the joy of a typical theater setting with a few adjustments to help those in attendance feel more comfortable. This will include alterations to light and sound, a variety of seating options, an environment that will encourage movement and breaks when needed, ASL interpretation, and inclusive staff that will welcome guests from the moment they arrive. Families who do not require these accommodations are still welcome to attend.

Des Moines Playhouse Spectrum Stories

831 42nd Street Des Moines


Spectrum Stories is specifically designed to provide drama experiences that best support the development of pretend play, social interaction, and non-verbal communication for students on the autism spectrum and others who may benefit from this experience. Each session is carefully designed to enhance creative expression of spectrum youth while supporting the profile marker needs of each participant. Developed with the guidance of Professor Gretta Berghammer of the University of Northern Iowa, and the Sturgis Youth Theatre, Spectrum Stories uses story, music, and art to bring imagination to life! Pre-registration online is encouraged but drop-ins are also welcome. An additional emergency contact form is available at the door specifically for those who tend to elope. Parents are asked to remain in the building during class time and may accompany their child into the class if they wish.

Des Moines Skywalk System

Enjoy four miles of climate-controlled skywalks in Downtown Des Moines. No matter the season. During evenings and weekends, the skywalks are empty and a good place for kids to run and be loud.

Doanes Park

5050 Doanes Park Road Pleasant Hill


Outdoor disk seat swing with all the benefits of lawn swings, hammocks, and reclining chairs. Able to recline and swing at the desired angle, equipped with locking mechanisms for your comfort and security. Wheelchair accessible over a rubber surface.

Des Moines Children’s Museum

Valley West Mall; 1551 Valley West Drive, West Des Moines


Children and families can enjoy an environment committed to letting kids play, experiment, be creative and explore their natural curiosity. Families are able to let loose at DSM Children’s Museum. Ages 1-10: $4.50, under 1 or over 10: donations appreciated but not required.

Get Air Sensory and Special Needs Saturdays

3799 86th Street Urbandale


Get Air offers a dedicated time just for jumpers with special needs. Music is played at a lower volume and the park’s atmosphere is calmer. One parent or guardian can support jumpers on the trampoline for free. Siblings of jumpers are welcome to jump for the same price but should be more careful during this time. A Special Time Just For You is on Saturdays from 8:00 to 10:00 am and is $13 Big Air or $8 Little Air (Under 46″).

GiGi’s Playhouse

6507 University Avenue, Windsor Heights


GiGi’s Playhouse offers free educational, therapeutic-based and career development programs for individuals with Down syndrome, their families and the community, through a replicable playhouse model. GiGi’s was created to be an inspirational and dedicated place for families to celebrate their child and benefit from free, purposeful programs. GiGi’s has group activities, a gymnasium, educational and social programs that are available to all, including individuals without Down Syndrome.

Menagerie Stables

4175 NE 64th Street Altoona


Menagerie Stables is dedicated to improving the well-being of children and adults living with physical, cognitive, and/or emotional disabilities through the benefits of equine-assisted activities. Therapeutic riding lessons are offered during the spring, summer, and fall. Lessons are staffed by certified instructors.

Science Center of Iowa Sensory Friendly Saturdays

401 W Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway Des Moines


Families with children on the autism spectrum or children with sensory processing disorders will enjoy exploring the Science Center of Iowa with the help of Sensory Guide signage, which indicates audio, visual and activity stimuli. Sensory-Friendly Hours is the first Saturday of the month from 8:30–10:00 am, October through May. Admission is free, and no advance tickets are required. Simply check in at the Box Office when you arrive!

Skate North Wheeling my Friend Around

5621 Meredith Drive Des Moines


This event is open to wheelchair users and their families and friends for a fun activity they can all enjoy together. Wheelchair, walker, gait trainers, etc… users are free. Additional skaters are $3 admission and $4 skate rental. You can walk out on the floor to push a wheelchair user or you can skate. Our skating floor and part of the concession area is accessible, the actual concession stand (where the food is sold) is not accessible. Bathrooms are not accessible. (You can get into the restrooms with wheelchairs but not into the actual stall.)

Terra Park

6300 Pioneer Parkway Johnston


A 200-acre park with an eight-acre fishing lake surrounded by a great lawn, an open-air shelter for gatherings, a picnic pavilion, smaller shelters, a fishing pier, trails, children’s play structures that are handicap accessible, and numerous native plantings. Accessible swing seat and disk swing.

Valley Community Center

4444 Fuller Road, West Des Moines


Brand new, all-inclusive playground. 2,400 sq ft park features a wheelchair accessible swing, wheelchair accessible merry-go-round, a glider, texture slide and double ride ramp on the playground. Due to safety, the wheelchair accessible swing is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you would like to use it, you will need to go into the Valley Community Center and ask for a key to unlock the chains.

About the Author

Rita Fredericks lives in Grimes with her husband, Nate, an English Teacher for the Des Moines Public School District and her two sons. Liam is a typical developing 8-year-old who loves to ride his bike, read and swim with the North Side Otters Swim Team. Miles is a happy 3-year-old who loves to cuddle, swing and swim.  Miles was born with a very rare, randomly occurring genetic mutation called CDKL5. For Miles, it causes intractable epilepsy, cortical vision impairment (Blind), cortical hearing impairment (Deaf), low tone, severe physical delays, intellectually disabled and he is fed by g-tube. Rita works to help families who have children with special health care needs as a Family Engagement Coordinator for the Iowa Deafblind Project and as a Family and Educator Partnership Coordinator for the Des Moines Public School District.


Erin Huiatt

Erin is a reliable resource and stepping stone for women and families to find support and make connections within our community. She wants families to feel confident to reach out and ask for help and advice to get pointed in the right direction. She enjoys traveling and exploring with her two children in tow!

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