Sensory Friendly and Inclusive Fun in the Des Moines Metro
There are many fun activities around the Des Moines Metro to do together as a family. However, for families who have children with disabilities, it can be hard to know which places will be accessible. We have collected a list of inclusive places from sensory-sensitive options, visual and performing arts, swimming, horseback riding, sports, accessible activities, and orchards that the whole family can enjoy. Take a look at this list of sensory-friendly and inclusive fun in the Des Moines metro.
1. Blank Park Zoo
Address: 7401 SW 9th Street, Des Moines, IA 50315
Phone: (515) 285-4722
Blank Park Zoo strives to be inclusive for all families and has a number of accommodations in place.
General accessibility: Pathways through the Zoo are ADA accessible with multiple family restrooms. Their GoGo Plaza Restroom has a Mother’s Room and a family restroom with an adult-size changing table. The carousel and train are both ADA-accessible.
Braille maps are available for check out as well as tactile bags which correlate with different areas of the zoo. A list of tactile and audio experiences that can be found through the zoo is available here.
Sensory Inclusive: Blank Park Zoo is a KultureCity Certified Sensory Inclusive Venue meaning sensory supports are in place and staff continue to obtain training in this area. They have designated Quiet Zones which often have less activity to prevent overstimulation as well as designated Headphone Zones where headphones may be needed due to an increase in noise and activity.
Read this Social Narrative before your visit to help your child prepare for the experience. Upon arriving check out a sensory bag and/or weighted lap pad. Occupational Therapy Tip: Weighted lap pads provide proprioceptive input (deep pressure to the muscles and joints) which can be calming.
2. B&B Theaters
Address: 1580 SW Market Street, Ankeny, IA 50023
B&B Theaters hosts Sensory Friendly viewings of certain films for those that may have difficulty attending regular showtimes. The audio level is decreased, there is brighter auditorium lighting and Sensory Backpacks are available for check out. Check their website for the next Sensory Friendly viewing.
3. Des Moines Children’s Museum
Address: 1551 Valley W Drive Suite 108, West Des Moines, IA 50266
Phone: (515) 218-8344
Des Moines Children’s Museum provides a safe, fun place for children and their families to play. The museum can be rented for birthday parties and they also host special events. The fourth Friday of each month they provide Sensory Sensitive Playdates from 5-6:30 PM for children on the autism spectrum or those with sensory sensitivities and their families. This time will include sensory bins, communication boards, and a low-light calming space. Check their Facebook page to confirm the date/time before attending.
4. Des Moines Performing Arts
Address: 221 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA 50309
Phone: (515) 246-2300
Des Moines Performing Arts provides entertainment, education, and cultural activities within four venues downtown including the Des Moines Civic Center, Stoner Theater, Temple Theater, and Cowles Commons.
General accessibility: American Sign Language interpreters are available for select performances, audio description is available for select performances and they have a Community Ticket Program for those that otherwise may not be able to attend due to finances. Learn more here.
Sensory Inclusive: Some events will offer sensory-friendly performance times where the lights and sounds are decreased, movement breaks are encouraged, and American Sign Language interpretation is available. All families are welcome to attend these events.
5. Iowa Events Center
The Iowa Events Center includes Wells Fargo Arena, Hyvee Hall, and the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center in downtown Des Moines. They offer year-round public events such as concerts, sporting events, and fundraisers. The Iowa Events Center venues have all been certified by KultureCity as Sensory Inclusive. Staff have been trained on strategies to support those with sensory overload and they have sensory supports in place. Before attending an event, read their social story to prepare for the visit. Upon arrival, check out a sensory bag with supports to use and then visit one of their quiet areas as needed to decompress.
6. Indianola Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center
Address: 714 W Detroit Avenue, Indianola, IA 50125
Phone: (515) 961-9422
This year the aquatic center held two free Special Needs Swim Nights on June 14 and July 26, 2023, for swimmers with disabilities accompanied by an adult. They also held Sensory-Friendly Swim Nights on June 28 and July 12, 2023, for $3.50 per person. Water features like the slides and dumping bucket were turned off. Check their website during the summer to see if/when these special swim nights will be continued.
7. Science Center of Iowa
Address: 401 W Martin Luther King Jr Parkway, Des Moines, IA 50309
Phone: (515) 274-6868
The Science Center of Iowa provides Sensory Friendly Hours with less crowds and noise. This is scheduled on the second Tuesday of each month from 4-7 PM but check their website first for any changes. Advanced registration is required and admission is free. A Sensory Guide shows where the audio, visual, and tactile stimuli are located in each space.
Prepare for the visit using their online Social Story and once there check out a Sensory Backpack with tools like noise-reducing headphones, fidgets, and weighted stuffed animals for calming.
Visual and Performing Arts:
1. Adventures in Social Development
Address: 9121 Northwest Windsor Drive, Johnston, IA 50131
Phone: (515) 306-0030
This non-profit organization provides enrichment in performance-based arts and social skills for all ages and abilities. Currently, classes include Drama Classes to learn acting, improvisation, and role play to help learn social skills and interactions as well as Social Drumming Classes to connect individuals through music.
Adventures in Social Development also provides behavior consultation as well as training for educators and other organizations to learn how to use interactive theatre to address social skills and conflict.
2. Community Support Advocates (CSA) Via MainFrame Studios
Address: 900 Keosauqua Way, Studio 109, Des Moines, IA 50309
Phone: (515) 669-4921
CSA has a studio space within MainFrame Studios called Momentum Arts Studio which provides free art opportunities to those with disabilities, brain injury, or mental health diagnosis. They host an annual art competition, exhibition and art workshops offered during the year. Reserve studio time using their website.
3. Dance Without Limits, Inc
Classes held at: The School of Classical Ballet and Dance (SCBD)
Address: 1509 42nd Street, West Des Moines, IA 50266
Phone: (515) 554-8511
Dance Without Limits is a non-profit organization that provides dance classes for children starting at age 4 and young adults with disabilities that may be unable to participate in other classes. Sessions are held in the Fall and Spring and divided into Movement classes and Technique classes. They have an instructor that’s fluent in American Sign Language and volunteers can use some basic signs.
4. Des Moines Art Center
Address: 4700 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50312
Phone: (515) 277-4405
The Des Moines Art Center is a museum of Modern and Contemporary Art as well as a school for art education. They offer a free class called Art Spectrums for children on the autism spectrum, ages 5-12 years old, and their families to learn about and make art together. Currently, it’s held on the second Sunday of the month.
1. Aqua-Tots Swim Schools- Des Moines
Address: 7125 Mills Civic Parkway #105, West Des Moines, IA 50266
Phone: (515) 612-9400
Aqua-Tots provides lessons for children from 4 months old through 12 years old in their 90-degree heated pool. Their Special Needs Aquatic Program (S.N.A.P) is tailored to each child with goals that may include improving comfort in the water and social environment, increasing motor function (such as strength), and improving confidence.
Address: 275 SW Brookside Drive, Grimes, IA 50111
Phone: (515) 300-3282
Natavi offers a wide variety of swim classes from toddler to adult as well as water aerobics and yoga. Their Swim and Water Instruction Modifications (S.W.I.M) class caters to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and instructors have been trained through the University of Missouri Occupational Therapy Department (shout out to my alma mater occupational therapy program). Lessons are 1:1 with the goal to improve swim and water safety while building confidence. There is an ASD program scholarship available.
3. Safe Splash Waukee
Address: 1175 SE University Avenue, Waukee, IA 50263
Phone: (515) 200-3477
Safe Splash Waukee provides swimming lessons for infants through adults along with competitive swim training, camps, and open swimming. Their Adaptive Aquatics program helps teach swimmers to feel comfortable in the water, water safety, and swimming basics according to the child’s individual needs and consists of three levels. The Therapeutic Aquatic Program (T.A.P) is used in collaboration with a caregiver for those with weakness or difficulty with head control. Instructors through the program or trained on working with all children including those with different sensory, developmental, and physical needs.
1. Menagerie Stables
Address: 3237 NE 108th Street, Mitchellville, IA 50169
Menagerie Stables provides adaptive riding lessons, saddle seat riding lessons, and volunteer opportunities. During the adaptive riding lessons, children learn how to ride, care for horses, practice social skills, and receive sensory input.
2. Rhythms of Grace
Address: 23625 River Heights Drive, Dallas Center, IA 50063
Phone: (515) 305-7361
This non-profit serves children through adults with Equine Assisted Services for those with physical, cognitive, sensory, learning, emotional/social needs. Instructors are certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. Their three programs include 1. Horsemanship to build strength, confidence, and social/learning skills, 2. Learning program to help understand horse behavior and relationship skills and 3. Therapy program with the use of licensed therapists such as counselors, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists. Scholarships are available based on financial need.
1. Adaptive Sports Iowa
Adaptive Sports Iowa provides sports and recreational programs for those with physical disabilities. Classes are held in Ames as well as all over the Des Moines Metro with a wide range of programs such as beep baseball (which can be played by those who are visually impaired as the ball beeps), youth and adult wheelchair basketball, adaptive cycling teams, adaptive fitness, wheelchair tennis, adaptive fitness and more.
In collaboration with Adaptive Sports Iowa, Crossfit 8035 provides adaptive fitness with personal fitness and weight training for $25/month. It’s led by a trainer certified in Adaptive and Inclusion.
2. Can Play
Phone: (515) 421-4021
Can Play is a non-profit organization serving children and adults through its Courage and Opportunity programs. Their Courage program provides adaptive sports and activities for those with disabilities. The Opportunity program provides no-cost recreational sports, activities, and meals for those that may have financial barriers. They have a broad range of classes and camps such as tennis, baseball, track and field, tumbling, group games, music, and more.
3. Iowa Miss Amazing
This annual pageant is for girls (starting at age 5) and women with disabilities to help build confidence, self-esteem, and friendship. Register to participate or volunteer on their website.
4. Spirit Taekwondo
Address: 1975 N Ankeny Blvd, Ste 111, Ankeny, IA 50023
Phone: (515) 202-5287
Traditional and adaptive martial arts classes are offered for kids through adults. Master Amy Ratekin has an International Para-Taekwondo Instructor Certification and is a member of the Adaptive Martial Arts Association. Their Therapeutic/Adaptive Martial Arts program has a smaller class size and includes classes Mondays and Thursdays at 4:00 PM Intellectual Disability and 4:30 and 5:00 PM Autism Spectrum.
5. The Greater Iowa Credit Union Miracle League
Address: 700 NW Douglas Parkway, Waukee, IA 50263
This baseball league is for youth with disabilities ages 5-19. It’s noncompetitive and co-ed. Sign up is through Waukee Parks and Recreation.
6. The Kiwanis Miracle League
Address: 529 SW 5th Street, Des Moines, IA 50309
Phone: (515) 280-5017
This baseball league is for youth and adults with disabilities where kids can have fun. They have Fall and Spring seasons and are managed by volunteers under the Kiwanis name.
7. The Miracle League of Ankeny
Ankeny Miracle Park
Address: 300 NW School Street, Ankeny, IA 50023
Phone: (515) 963-3570
This non-competitive baseball league is for kids and adults with disabilities. The Youth League is for ages 5-18 years old and the Adult League is for ages 19 and up. Games consist of two innings, players are safe on the bases and community volunteers assist the players.
8. The Miracle League of Urbandale
Northview Park Little League Complex
Address: 4871 78th Street, Urbandale, IA 50322
This free noncompetitive baseball/softball league is for children with disabilities ages 5-18 and adults 19 and up. Each team has at least two parent coaches and each player is paired with a volunteer buddy.
9. Tribe Athletics
Address: 1400 SE Gateway Drive, Suite 108, Grimes, IA 50111
Phone: (515) 369-3700
Tribe Athletics offers cheer and tumbling classes starting at age 4. They have a Cheerabilities Team called ARROWS for kids with disabilities starting at age 5 to learn All-Star Cheerleading. The season takes place from October through April with weekly practice. Each athlete is paired with a buddy athlete from one of their other Tribe teams.
1. Adventureland Park
Address: 305 34th Avenue NW, Altoona, IA 50009
Phone: (515) 266-2121
This theme park provides rides, shows, and attractions for Adventureland and the waterpark Adventureland Bay. They have an accessibility guide on their website explaining their Ride Admission Program to help guests understand which rides they can safely enjoy. This guide also describes individual rides with the type of movements it provides and any physical restrictions each has.
Their Adventureland and Adventure Bay Alternative Access Programs allow individuals that quality to use the accessible (ADA) entrances for the rides with minimal wait time. Each pass can be used with three additional guests.
2. Get Air Trampoline Park
Address: 3799 86th Street, Urbandale, IA 50322
Phone: (515) 528-7549
This trampoline park features activities like a Kiddie Court for younger kids, dodgeball, foam pit, and ninja activities. They have a designated “Toddler Time” and “A Special Time For You” for jumpers with disabilities. It’s held on the first Saturday of each month from 8 AM to 10:00 AM. There is less of a crowd and music is played at a lower volume. Caregivers can talk with a team member before playing to ensure appropriate accommodations are in place. One parent/guardian can attend for free and siblings can come for the same price (Big Air $13.99 and Little Air $8.99). Check their website first before attending for any changes.
3. Gigi’s Playhouse
Address: 6507 University Avenue, Windsor Heights, IA 50324
Phone: (515) 252-7529
Gigi’s Playhouse provides free programming for those with Down Syndrome from infants through adults and their families. Current programs include playgroups, dance classes, cooking classes, art classes, fitness classes, parent’s night out, speakers, tutoring, and family nights. Community members can register to volunteer as well as support the mission through donations and fundraising.
4. Look Cook and Eat
Address: 2717 Ingersoll Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50312
Look Cook and Eat was started to help those with intellectual disabilities learn to cook through online video modeling and pictures demonstrating the step-by-step process to make simple recipes and showing the tools and ingredients needed.
This method helps improve people’s success and independence with cooking to help them lead more independent lives. Utilize the free trial and subscribe for $30 per year. Teachers, agencies, and organizations can subscribe for those they serve for $49.95 per year. Special diets such as gluten-free and vegetarian are also included.
1. Center Grove Orchard
Address: 32835 610th Avenue, Cambridge, IA 50046
Phone: (515) 383-4354
Center Grove Orchard is open seasonally and features U-pick options, farmyard animals, and fun attractions and games like a corn pool, hay rides, trains, and slides. Paths are not paved but the hay ride has a wheelchair lift and other attractions are accessible such as feeding the farm animals, duck races, and barn shows.
2. Howells Greenhouse and Pumpkin Patch
Address: 3145 Howell Ct, Cumming, IA 50061
Phone: (515) 981-0863
Howells has a greenhouse, farmyard play, events, a seasonal pumpkin patch, and seasonal baby goat cuddling. Their wagon rides are wheelchair accessible and wheelchair users may be able to enjoy activities like the corn pool if they can be lifted in. The farmyard play area is grass and not paved. Note that bathrooms are porta-potties only.