BRIDGEWATER, NJ, September 25, 2018 — Children and adults throughout Somerset County, N.J. are finding avenues for creative expression, recreational activities and more at various venues that offer a range of programs geared specifically to those with special needs.
“These programs are important facets of Somerset County's mission to provide enriching opportunities for residents and visitors to 'live, work, play and stay',” said Jacqueline Morales, director of Somerset County Tourism. “Our partners are responding in meaningful and innovative ways to varying needs and populations.”
Live theatre for children with sensory or developmental differences
Residents and visitors with children on the autism spectrum, with sensory or communication disorders or with developmental differences can enjoy live theatre at “relaxed” family performances that accommodate their audiences' sensitivities at these venues:
• The Theatre at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCCArts) in Branchburg offers sensory-friendly shows with theatre lights dimmed, an “open door” policy that allows patrons to exit and enter as needed and that contain no startling elements. The “no judgment” zone during these performances welcomes children who may not be able to sit still or sit quietly throughout the performance. The RVCCArts schedule of family relaxed performances is at http://www.rvccarts.org/19/Events/YouthFamily.html.
• The State Theatre New Jersey in nearby New Brunswick also offers sensory-friendly shows with the same accommodations. In addition, the theatre offers a quiet room where children can work off their energy with toys and not disturb other theatre goers, and the ushers have been specially trained to assist the families. For the schedule for the theatre's autism-friendly performances, visit http://www.stnj.org/relaxed.
• RVCC's planetarium offers a monthly sensory-friendly show called “The Sky Above” with songs, stories, videos, laser lights and astronomy information presented on a kindergarten level. It was designed by specialists who work with autistic children and those with developmental disabilities. The sensory-friendly shows are listed at https://www.raritanval.edu/planetarium.
Creative outlets meet a broad range of special needs
Those seeking creative outlets have an array of choices. The Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster has monthly art outreach programs for various groups in a safe, supportive setting:
• Adults affected by cancer and their caregivers, served by the Cancer Support Community of Central New Jersey in Bedminster, held at The Center
• Adults with developmental disabilities, held at the Adult Services Branch of the Midland School in North Branch
• Homeless and at-risk youth served by Visions and Pathways, held at the Bridgewater facility
• A year-round pottery class at The Center for teens recovering from substance abuse at Daytop New Jersey in Mendham
• Year-round classes and a summer art program for children with autism spectrum disorder and other special needs, held at The Center
Of note, the ceramic studio has the area's only wheelchair-accessible pottery wheel, designed for those who use a wheelchair or must remain upright. Large print literature about exhibits and The Center are available as are other special services. Staff will accompany any individual through gallery exhibits if assistance is required and assistive listening devices are available with advance notification. More information is at https://ccabedminster.org/art-reach.
The Arts Access Program at Matheny in Peapack Gladstone offers unique fine arts programming for people with disabilities in the areas of painting, digital art creative writing, creative movement, choreography and drama. Each art discipline uses specifically designed choice systems, technologies and techniques, as well as professional artists who serve as neutral facilitators, so that each participant can create works that are distinctly their own.
The pioneering arts program, established in 1993, is based on unlimited freedom of artistic choice and is open to all individuals with disabilities. It is located in the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center, a fully accessible, state-of-the-art facility at Matheny with an expansive art studio, professional stage and auditorium, and a spacious, light-filled gallery.
The program's 25th anniversary year will culminate with its annual arts event on November 3. “Full Circle 2018: Then & Now” celebrates the artists and their work with a new gallery exhibit, multi-media stage show and fine food reception. The event is open to the public and all proceeds benefit the Matheny Arts Access Program. For more information, visit artsaccessprogram.org.
Making outdoor fun and education accessible to all
The Somerset County Park Commission offers many recreational programs at various locations for children and adults with developmental and other disabilities, from adaptive horseback riding to flower arranging to summer camps. A list of parks and therapeutic recreation programs is at https://www.somersetcountyparks.org/.
• Lord Stirling Stables in Basking Ridge offers an adapted horseback riding program called T.R.A.I.L.S. (Therapeutic Recreation Adapted Instruction at Lord Stirling), where small groups of riders are assisted by volunteers. T.R.A.I.L.S. covers all the basics of a regular riding program at a slower pace based on each group's abilities, and uses adaptive or assistive equipment to accommodate each rider's needs. With inclusion as a goal, many riders may progress to take mainstream beginner lessons.
• Making environmental education available to all visitors, the Environmental Center at Lord Stirling Park has a discovery garden trail with a fully accessible boardwalk and the visitor center has elevator access to the interactive Great Swamp Experience on the lower floor.
• Colonial Park in Franklin Township offers many accommodations. The Fragrance and Sensory Garden, designed to be of special interest for visitors who are visually or physically impaired, is fully accessible; there are paddle boats on the pond that can be powered with arms rather than legs; and the playground has many accessible features in a safe environment. A specially designed, fully accessible one-acre putting course enables all golf enthusiasts to practice their putting.
• Duke Island Park in Bridgewater has a wheelchair-accessible path to the playground, accessible picnic tables, and a walking trail with a paved loop for those w/mobility impairments.
• All public golf courses operated by the park commission have single-rider carts that allow golfers with disabilities to drive right onto the greens (weather permitting), and the seats pivot and tilt, enabling those who cannot stand to golf while seated. The seats also raise and lower to make it easier to get in and out of the cart.
Additional resources for families
The EmPower Somerset Childhood Disability Resource Guide is available at http://www.empowersomerset.com/resources/. It has comprehensive listings, in English and Spanish, of social service agencies, support groups, educational programs, information on disability rights, and much more.
Somerset County Tourism, a 501(c)3 organization, is the official destination marketing organization (DMO) for Somerset County, N.J. a and a Division of the Somerset County Business Partnership. Its mission is to advance the local economy by sustainably promoting the area's outstanding travel products and experiences, and to offer a variety of useful services to residents, business travelers and leisure visitors. Somerset County Tourism is an active member of New Jersey Destination Marketing Organizations and the New Jersey Tourism industry Association. For more information visit www.visitsomersetnj.org or call 908-218-4300, ext. 28.
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