Austin Holiday Events for Children with Special Needs

The holiday season is a wonderful time for people to come together to celebrate community and fun, and it should be enjoyed by all. Sometimes, however, those bright lights, hordes of people, and new sights and sounds can become a bit overwhelming, making events for families with different needs and abilities even more important.

Here are a few events that help to make the season bright, including events that are created exclusively for children with special needs, as well as general public events that might make a good fit. Note: some events have a cost associated with them.   

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Teddy Bear Teas
November 25 & 26, December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17 | seatings at noon and 3 p.m. | Four Seasons Hotel, 98 San Jacinto Blvd
With traditional tea service, caroling and a fireside reading of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Santa himself, our Teddy Bear Teas in the Lobby Lounge are some of our most popular annual events, selling out year after year. Children attending a tea are asked to bring a new, unwrapped teddy bear as a donation to Dell Children’s Hospital. Reservations are required and may be made by calling (512) 685-8300 ($45 for adults, $30 for children 12 and under).

Emily Ann Theater’s A Christmas Carol and Trail of Lights
November 25-December 28 | various times | Emily Ann Theater 1101 FM 2325, Wimberley
Performance: This community theater’s version of A Christmas Carol runs November 25 through December 17 at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students, available here.
Trail: The trail is open from November 25 to December 28, 2017 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday); 6:00-10:00 p.m. (Friday & Saturday). There is no charge for admission, but donations are greatly appreciated as this is one of our biggest fundraisers for the year! Donation boxes are available at the entrance and around the Trail of Lights. Editor’s note: This trail was recommended to us as a very low-key and quiet event.

Holiday Music at the Driskill
November 29 & 30, December 6, 7, 13, 14 | from 5 to 7 p.m. | The Driskill, 604 Brazos St
Relax in the lobby and enjoy the stunning holiday decorations at The Driskill Hotel while the Arundel String Trio performs holiday music!

Variety’s Annual Holiday Party and Sensory Friendly Movie Screening
December 2 | from 9 to 11:30 a.m. | Cinemark Hill Country Galleria
Come one, come all to Variety’s Annual holiday Party and Sensory Friendly Movie Screening! The lobby of Cinemark will open at 9 a.m. for face-painting, refreshments, snacks, and a visit with Santa Claus, followed by a sensory friendly movie screening of a newly release kid-friendly movie at 9:30 a.m. Be sure to sign your kiddos up for the event! Children ages 13 and younger are encouraged to attend. Accommodations will be made for children with special needs! In order to reserve your tickets, you must RSVP to k[email protected] due to limited seating.

Caring Santa
December 3 | from 9 to 11 a.m. | Round Rock Premium Outlets, 4401 N IH35, Round Rock
Just for children with special needs — Caring Santa is coming to town! Reserve your spot for a private photos experience today. Caring Santa will be waiting at the food court.

Holiday Open Houses at Four Seasons
December 5 & 6 | from 5 to 6 p.m. | Four Seasons Hotel, 98 San Jacinto Blvd
A beloved tradition, Open Houses invite locals and visitors to ooh and ahh over the Gingerbread Village in the Lobby, all while enjoying complimentary hot apple cider and festive cookies. The talented pastry chefs behind this year’s Monopoly-inspired Village – along with special guest, Santa – will also be on hand for photo opportunities and to answer questions about the houses, which will be on display from November 21 through December 28, 2017.

Luminations at the Wildflower Center
December 7-10 | from 6 to 9 p.m. | Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave
It’s almost time to bring back our luminarias, light up the night, and make our gardens glow bright for the holidays! At the Wildflower Center, winter is naturally magical, but we go all out to bring more sparkle and cheer for the holidays! Walk along the paths and gardens with thousands of luminarias and other beautiful light displays. Enjoy free taffy and hot chocolate in our courtyard. Delicious holiday foods and festive beverages, fun activities and live music make this one of Austin’s most memorable holiday traditions! RSVP for updates, music schedules, and previews. Gather your family and invite your friends to start a new tradition or continue a beloved one at the Wildflower Center. Children 5 years+ and adults cost $15 for non-member ($10 for members), children 4 years and under are free.

Casey’s Christmas Party
December 9 | from 2 to 4 p.m. | Dell Children’s Medical Center, 4900 Mueller Blvd
Please join us for a fun filled afternoon including: Santa, crafts, a sensory story, door prizes, holiday music sing-a-long, and more…This year we have decided to add a second party – invite only. If your child is medically complex and/or has sensory issues and you prefer to attend the smaller party, please email us [email protected] to get more details. If you would prefer to attend the larger party, you may register here.

Sensory Santa
December 16 | from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. | Private home, Cedar Park
Join Santa and his elves for an up close and personal experience! Get your pictures taken and participate in fun activities in an environment tailored to your unique needs. This special event is FREE and reserved for children with unique circumstances and their families. Registration is required, contact Santa’s helpers at [email protected] or 208.353.4494. The home’s address will be given during registration.

For more holiday fun ideas:

Holiday Lights Displays in Central Texas
100+ Ways to Celebrate the Holidays in Central Texas


Featured photo via US Air Force, Creative Commons licensed.

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About the Author

Laurie Lyons-Makaimoku
As a long time Austin resident, Laurie is a big fan of dive bars, the Spurs, and low-key celebrity stalking. She's also a UT grad with a master's in New Media Journalism, and has never met a pug that she didn't like.