After School Programs for Children with Disabilities
When you are the parent of a child with a disability, after school programs and activities may seem beyond your reach. The truth is, there are many options for kids of all abilities, you just need to know where to look! Here we will review some of the wonderful after school options in New Jersey, ranging from structured after school programs to specialized classes covering a variety of disciplines.
Friendship Circle of Central Jersey
This organization, located in Manalapan, provides a wide variety of programs with a strong focus on social skills and support. They pair teenage volunteers with program participants for everything from “hang out” sessions to swimming to sports. Friendship Circle also offers Jewish programs for those who wish to participate. Currently Friendship Circle also offers virtual programs that cover music, dance, cooking, and more. Programs are affordable and are offered throughout the year. Find out more about them here.
Kids 2 Kids
Kids to Kids, based in Morristown, is a non-profit organization led by high school students eager to give back to their community. K2K offers multiple programs spanning everything from yoga to horticulture and everything in between. Classes are extremely affordable, and some are even free. It’s a great local program that works with local businesses. Like most organizations, they are currently offering virtual options during the pandemic. Find out more about this awesome non-profit here.
Spectrum All Stars
Spectrum All Stars is the least structured of this bunch. This organization, based in Union County, is a self-proclaimed “place where our children can get together to just be themselves, where parents can relax and enjoy spending time with others without feeling judged, and where hopefully life-long friendships will develop.” Spectrum All Stars is an after school activity/parent support group/social skills amalgamation that is relaxed and provides a strong sense of community. Follow them on Facebook to learn more about their events and connect with other parents in your area.
We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym
Located in Mount Laurel, this gym’s slogan says it all: “Finally a Place Where You Never Have to Say I’m Sorry”. They boast a sensory friendly environment for kids on the autism spectrum, and welcome all ability levels. They even offer One-to-One Attendant services (at additional cost) for those children with behavioral or safety concerns. Highly rated online, this is a great place for your kids to get out their energy, make new friends, and let parents take a break. Visit them here to find out more.
Arts for Kids Inc.
This wonderful organization in Orange is on a mission “to contribute to the overall success of each individual through meaningful learning opportunities in the arts, regardless of age, economic status, and developmental and/or physical disabilities.” They offer classes in music, dance, drama, visual arts, and more. You can check out all the programs they offer here.
If you and your kids are inspired by Temple Grandin, consider participating with your local 4-H! Their programs consist of projects in multiple areas, such as agriculture, science, and more. 4-H is also (amazingly) in every county and parish in the United States, with nearly 6 million participants nationwide! 4-H does take a mainstream approach to including kids with disabilities, so it may not be the right program for everyone, particularly if you know your child requires some extra support. Find out more about the nationwide 4-H program, including how to contact your local chapter, by clicking here.
When you think of scouts, you probably think of Girl Scout Cookies; at least I do! While the Girl Scouts of the USA are a great organization, there are actually many different scout organizations throughout the US!
- Boy Scouts of America: Possibly the most well known scouting organization, the Boy Scouts have been around since 1910! Despite the name, Boy Scouts are open to both boys and girls, and have various levels of achievement that can be awarded. Decide if the Boy Scouts are right for you here.
- Girl Scouts of the USA: Thin Mints! Tagalongs! Samoas! Believe it or not, The Girl Scouts are about more than just cookies. This leadership focused scouting organization prepares girls for success and adventure in a variety of fields, including STEM, outdoors, life skills, and entrepreneurship. Find out more and locate your local troop here.
- Frontier Girls: For families that prefer homeschooling, the Frontier Girls may be right for you! “Unlike other scouting style programs, Frontier Girls is a curriculum you purchase, not an organization that you join. Troops are run autonomously by local nonprofits or individuals as part of their local youth programming.” Learn more about their unique scouting program here.
- Spiral Scouts: Another unique organization, the Spiral Scouts were founded on Pagan principles. They highly value “the ethics of personal and global responsibility, ecological principles, and protection of our environment and planet.” They are an international scouting organization, and you can learn more about them here.
- Camp Fire: Located in Trenton, Camp Fire has a strong commitment to inclusion, making a point to welcome kids from all walks of life. While they work with in-school and afterschool programs, the real gem here happens outside the school environment. Their Service Learning and Leadership program connects kids from throughout central New Jersey to provide “young people opportunities to contribute to their communities through meaningful service and leadership experiences.” Their Family Engagement Program is focused on building and maintaining family relationships for teens and pre-teens, something all families can find value in. Learn more about their programs here.
MarbleJam Kids Center
Located in Bergen County, the MarbleJame Kids Center’s programs are specifically designed to meet the needs of those “with autism spectrum disorders, developmental disabilities, emotional & social challenges, and other special needs.” In addition to art, dance, and music studios, MarbleJam also has a study room and all-purpose room. They even offer camp and a special Short Film Program in the summer. Find out if MarbleJam is a fit for you here.
You may have heard of Academy 360, the private schools located in Verona and Livingston, but did you know they are part of a larger organization? In addition to schools and adult services, Spectrum 360 offers specialized classes for individuals with developmental disabilities, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- Film Academy 360: This program offers learners the amazing opportunity to explore the world of film! Whether it’s filmmaking and video editing, or game creation and graphic arts, Film Academy 360 offers a unique environment for those creative kids! Check them out here.
- Culinary Academy 360: Do you have an aspiring chef on your hands? At Culinary Academy 360, learners aged 14 and older have the chance to flourish in the kitchen. Interested? Click here to begin reaping the delicious benefits of this program.
The Miracle Project at the Mayo Performing Arts Center
Sitting in the heart of Morristown, the MPAC proudly participates in The Miracle Project. Founded in 2004 in Los Angeles, this program was featured in the award winning documentary, Autism: The Musical. The Miracle Project helps participants “build communication and social skills, community, and greater self-esteem through music, acting, dance, acting and storytelling.” Learn more about this amazing program here.
The School of Royal Yoga: The Center for Special Needs
Featuring yoga for special needs children, The School of Royal Yoga is perfect for the family looking for a little more balance in their lives. Besides the obvious benefits of a good workout, the program “assists in improving each child’s ability to focus and concentrate, in addition to improving fine and gross motor skills.” Find your family’s inner yogi here.
Wolves Basketball Academy
Looking for a more athletic activity for your child? Look no further than the Wolves Basketball Academy in Scotch Plains! Their Inclusion League blends both special needs and non-special needs athletes together for awesome games and great social skills development. If joining the team sounds right for you, read more about WBA here.
If independent sports are more your thing, check out Special Dragons in Nutley, Hackensack, Union, or Jersey City. Focused specifically on kids with special needs, Special Dragons uses karate to teach “eye/hand coordination, motor control, balance, sensory integration, conditioning, focus, time on task,” and more. Right now, they are even offering virtual classes! Read more about this amazing organization here.
Didn’t see anything in your area? Here are some additional resources for finding great after school programs and activities in your area!
“The Statewide Network for New Jersey’s Afterschool Communities” promotes and supports the development, continuity, and expansion of out-of-school programs. Click here to see what they have to offer.
Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies “have trained staff to provide information to parents” regarding a multitude of child care services. Click here to find the phone number and website for your county’s CCR&Rs.