Family, Things to do

5 city centre activities for autistic teenagers

A common misunderstanding of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is that they are all sensory avoiders and therefore likely to become overwhelmed with the stimulation of a city centre break away.

This may certainly the case for some people with autism. But many are also sensory seekers, who would equally welcome the buzz of a city break.

As we’re all individuals, it’s important not to generalise someone with ASD.

YHA is well known for its 150 hostels throughout England and Wales. But what is perhaps less well known is just how many of these are located right in the middle of our thriving cities.

Which makes them perfect locations to visit for young people and teenagers with autism.

Autism friendly activities for teenagers in cities across England and Wales

So what are some of the best activities for autistic teenagers in some of the bigger cities and their surrounding areas, in England and Wales?

We take a closer look at five great activities for autistic children and teenagers.

London Transport Museum

1. Climb aboard the buses at the London Transport Museum

Located just off Covent Garden, in the heart of London itself, the London Transport Museum is about as central as it gets!

And its understanding and willingness to accommodate visitors with autism is exemplary.

The museum holds private sessions seven times a year, where those with special educational needs (SEN), including autism spectrum disorder as well as physical, emotional and behavioural needs, can gain exclusive access to the venue.

These sessions are run either from 8.30am, before the public arrive or after 6.15pm, when the public have left for the day. They allow visitors to escape the crowds as well as any unnecessary noise or visual stimulation as they look round the museum.  

Explore over 200 years of transport in London, including buses, trains, trams and of course, the London Underground.

Children and young people under the age of 17 go free (children 12 years and under must be accompanied by an adult). Carers also go free.

Advance booking over the telephone is recommended.

Nearby hostels: YHA London Central, YHA London Earl’s Court, YHA London St Pancras, YHA London St Pauls, YHA London Thameside, YHA London Oxford Street, YHA London Lee Valley

Park Lane Stables

2. Ride, drive or just cuddle a horse in Teddington

Park Lane Stables in Teddington & Hampton offers stand out provision for anyone with autism.

Passionate about offering access to horses for everyone, this urban riding school in London caters for a wide range of visitors with additional needs, through its affiliation with Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).

Visitors can choose from riding lessons in the school itself or hacking out and about in nearby Royal Bushy Park.

For wheelchair users, unable to weight-bear, there is even the chance to take part in carriage driving.

Should you prefer to spend time with the horses but not ride, you might like the chance to help groom, tack up and generally take care for the animals.

Whatever your ability, there is something for everyone here. Visitors are advised to book an appointment in advance.

Nearby hostels: YHA London Central, YHA London Earl’s Court, YHA London St Pancras, YHA London St Pauls, YHA London Thameside, YHA London Oxford Street

Brighton seafront

3. Discover the ocean by day – and by night – on the seafront in Brighton

Sealife Brighton has just undergone a £2.7 million refurbishment in order to offer its state of the art attraction ‘Night and Day’.

Visitors to the aquarium, which is located right on Brighton’s vibrant seafront, can experience the wonder of a coral reef as this 750,000 litre display showcases a 24-hour day.

Here you can spot over 840 sea creatures, including sting rays, turtles and sharks, as you walk through the glass tunnel, with the fish swimming all around you.

Sea creatures drawn to the light contrast widely with the bioluminescent soft corals, glowing in the dark.

Alternatively, take a ride in the glass bottomed boat, stroke a starfish or watch the nurse and black tip reef sharks get their lunch.

Staff at Sealife Brighton receive disability awareness and equality training and admission for carers is free.

Nearby hostels: YHA Brighton, YHA South Downs

Komodo dragons

4. Brush up on your Komodo dragons at Chester Zoo

You can easily spend the day at Chester Zoo and still not see everything! Explore 125 acres of zoological gardens, complete with over 27,000 animals, from Bornean orangutans, to greater one-horned rhino – and everything in between.

Chester Zoo really does go the extra mile to cater for visitors with autism. They work with Autism Together to raise awareness of autism in the community and have also signed up to the Autism Charter, pledging to become an autistic friendly visitor attraction.

They have also trained over 240 staff members as Autism Champions and plan to roll out this training out to even more staff in the near future.

All of which means that as a visitor with autism, you can be confident that all your needs will be met.

Prior to your visit, you can browse maps and information about the zoo on their website. They offer advice about quieter times to visit as well as year round membership, allowing you to pop in and out of the zoo for as long or short a time as you decide.

Staff training means that they are briefed to help with anyone unable to queue and they offer specific sensory experience sessions if you would like to visit as a group.

Nearby Liverpool is a maritime city and home to two cathedrals, two premier league football teams and of course, The Beatles so there’s no shortage of things to do during a short break in this area.

Nearby hostels: YHA Liverpool Albert Dock, YHA Liverpool Central

Roman Baths

5. Step back in time at the Roman Baths in Bath

The historic Roman Baths in the city of Bath, offer visitors the chance to step back 2,000 years to Ancient Roman times and see first-hand how the Romans lived and worked in this area.

During your tour, you will get to meet a soldier, stonemasons, a slave and other characters in costume, who are all based on genuine people and their stories.

And as a multi-sensory experience, visitors over 6 years old can even taste the waters prized for centuries for curative purposes!

The site provides relaxing audio guides especially for children (narrated by much loved children’s novelist Michael Rosen) which talk you through this fascinating journey through time.

To help you to prepare in advance for your trip, their website offers a full guide of what to expect in each exhibition, including an immersive, 3D walk through tour and a number of interactive games.

There’s even a free Roman Baths Kids app you can download in preparation for your visit.

Plus, if anyone in your group struggles with queuing, you can just let a member of staff know and you’ll be fast tracked to the front.

Nearby hostels: YHA Bath, YHA Bristol

The best hostel accommodation for teenagers with autism

Watching teenagers become more and more independent can be nerve wracking for any parent. And if your teenager has autism you might have even more reason to be worried when they plan a trip away.

YHA welcomes families of all ages and individuals aged 16 and over to stay at its hostels.

What makes YHA some of the best hostel accommodation for teenagers with autism?

Although our hostels vary greatly from the outside, we know that our autistic guests appreciate the continuity they find inside.

This can be anything from the warm welcome they, like every guest, receive on arrival, to the willingness from our staff to help with any query – however unusual!

Guests with autism are also known to love our bunk beds, which can be found in every hostel throughout England and Wales.

The shared spaces within the hostels offer visitors the chance to dip in and out of conversation with other guests and many of our locations also have a quieter lounge space, if you prefer a little more solitude.

You can also choose to eat in our café bars and restaurants or cook for yourself, with others, in our well-equipped, shared kitchens.

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