In The Media

Sensory-friendly classes on Long Island for kids on the autism spectrum

by | Jan 30, 2023 | In The Media, Newsday

By Beth Whitehouse,, January 25, 2023

From obstacle courses to cooking classes to horseback riding, several Long Island groups offer extracurricular activities that help children on the autism spectrum feel more at ease while they’re having fun.

The activities may provide higher staff ratios or have directions and processes broken down into parts to help out participants, organizers say, and the age range goes from toddlers all the way into the teen years.

Here are some places that offer fun recreational options geared toward kids with special needs:

Cecelia Cernilli, 6, from Rockaway, participates in a sensory activity with her dad Matt Cernilli at Actions Speak yoga class at Positions Dance Studio in Babylon on Jan. 8. Credit: Morgan Campbell

A speech language pathologist and an occupational therapist run three activities for children of different ages. Yes I Can is an obstacle-course challenge for children ages 5 to 8; it’s a class of eight to 10 children with a lot of structure, consistency and routine, says Lauren Vaughan, an occupational therapist.

Yoga and You is a preschool option during which children learn emotional regulation; siblings who are not on the spectrum are welcome to attend as well. Tiny Titans is for ages 18 months to 3 years who need work on language development skills and calming strategies even though they might not yet have an official diagnosis of autism, says Frieda Shmuel-Markowitz, the speech language pathologist.

Classes are held at Positions Dance Studio, 264 Deer Park Ave., Babylon, on Sunday mornings or New York Dancers Studio, 388 Merrick Ave., East Meadow, on Thursday evenings. A full six-week series is $185 and includes a 20-minute Zoom consultation with the parents prior to the course; a three-week series is $100 and individual classes are $40. For more information or to register, call 516-305-7227 or visit

The Family Center for Autism, 1517 Franklin Ave., Garden City

At The Family Center for Autism, children, tweens and teens can participate in programs including yoga, Zumba, music, cooking classes and more, says Tina Moreno, director of development. The center particularly has focused on the needs of high school students ages 14 to 18, Moreno says.

“We felt that was the black hole, they just fell through the cracks. They weren’t getting invited to parties, they weren’t going to hang out on a Friday night,” she says.

The center’s weekly Friday Night Social Scene from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. is a very popular offering, during which participants do arts and crafts, play video games and make friends, says Lonnell Harrington, assistant director. For more information and pricing, which varies, call 516-355-9400 or visit

Participants study a different artist every week at during the Spirit of Huntington Arts Center’s drop-in ArtABILITY classes for ages 5 to 17, which include a slideshow of the artists’ art, perhaps a video clip of the artist working, and an art project in the style of the artist, says Michael Kitakis, executive director. All of the students’ creations may be included at a periodic art exhibit, he says.

Classes are in person from 10:30 to noon on Saturdays; a virtual option allows students to take the class at 12:30 p.m. Saturdays, with boxes of material sent to their homes in advance. Classes are $75 each.

The center also offers a six-week series of clay classes during which students make cups, bowls, decorations and more, with advanced students about to use pottery wheels; cost is $250 plus a $40 fee for the clay. A Clay Partners class at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays allows ages 5 and older to collaborate on projects with a parent for the same fee that includes both participants. For more information, call 631-470-9620 or visit

HorseAbility, on the campus of SUNY Old Westbury, 223 Storehill Rd.

HorseAbility’s adaptive riding program offers group or private lessons adapted to the needs of the individual. Lessons are 30 or 45 minutes and are geared to offering physical, mental and social rewards, including interacting with the animals and the volunteers, says Katie McGowan, founder and executive director. For ages 4 and older. Cost is $55 per group lesson and $90 per private lesson, but lessons are offered as a series. For more information, call 516-333-6151 or visit

Long Island Children’s Museum, 11 Davis Ave., Garden City

Once a month, the Long Island Children’s Museum opens after hours for families with children on the spectrum or with other special needs; admission is free for the whole family once families preregister on the museum website, says Maureen Mangan, director of communications. During Friendly Hours the museum lighting and sound is reduced. The next session is from 6 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 24. For more information, call 516-224-5800 or visit

These programs are designed for family members of children with special needs:

GASAK — Grandparent Advocates Supporting Autistic Kids, The North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, 80 North Service Rd., Manhasset

The North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center offers a free monthly support group for grandparents who have grandchildren on the spectrum; it meets in person or on Zoom at 10:30 a.m. on the last Thursday of every month. “The grandparents … help each other, give each other ideas and suggestions. It’s a place they can share their fears and their little victories,” says facilitator Sue Cohen. Their friends who have typical grandchildren might not understand what a big deal it is when they express pride in their grandchildren’s accomplishments, Cohen says. For information, call 516-484-3174 ext. 402 or visit

Sibshops siblings support group, Sensory Beans, 3309 Merrick Rd., Wantagh

Children ages 5 to 9 who have siblings with special needs can share their experiences — both good and challenging — with other kids who can relate during the monthly Sibshops gathering. Meetings include play, pizza and a drink and cost $30 per child. For more information, call 516-308-1462 or visit

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