When someone mentions Dallas, Texas, some of us envision wealthy oil tycoons driving fancy cars, their wives shopping at all of the luxury stores, and of course, BBQ brunches.
Perhaps the successful 80 series with the same name fueled that stereotype a bit, but regardless, I admit that I never thought of Dallas as a place to take kids, especially kids with autism.
This all changed last November when we went to the family travel conference and attended some of the post-conference trips.
We discovered that Dallas is the perfect place to take kids with autism because it has multiple museums and tourist attractions that will provide an educational experience for your children without putting them into sensory overload.
We particularly enjoyed the Zoo, Aquarium, Arboretum, Perot Science Center, and the Sixth Floor Museum.And yes, we even got a chance to visit the TV set and gawk at the replica of Southfork, TV’s most famous ranch.
The zoo was founded in 1888 as the first zoo in the southwest, and over the 100+ years that it has been operating, the zoo has grown from two deer and two mountain lions to over 2,000 animals.
Visitors can find a variety of unique exhibits, such as Giants of the Savannah, which is an exhibit that mixes elephants and other species within the same habitat, and the koala exhibit, which is the only one in the state of Texas, and one of just ten across the United States.
We’ve always enjoyed close animal interactions, and in Dallas, we were able to feed giraffes (we discovered their smooth tongue), hold an owl like Harry Potter (with the appropriate glove), watch young lions in training, and walk next to a hyperactive penguin.
With performances, restaurants, and (of course) the aquarium itself, the Dallas Aquarium is ideal for families with different interests.
There is a rainforest exhibit, several conservation projects with endangered animals, and an outdoor South African exhibit with penguins. The aquarium also has the more traditional aquarium animals – sharks, rays, sawfish, and more.
What is great about the Dallas Aquarium is the fact that it is on the smaller side, self-contained, and temperature controlled, which is a good option for kids that hate to be outdoors or that are temperature sensitive.
Our son loved standing in the glass shark tunnel viewing the giant predators swim overhead.
The Dallas Arboretum covers 66-acres of display gardens with seasonal flowers, ornamental shrubs, trees and plant collections, creating quite a lovely setting on White Rock Lake.
The Arboretum also has seasonal outdoor festivals, concerts, and art shows.
They also have two restaurants – Restaurant DeGolyer in the historic DeGolyer House, or the Lula Mae Slaughter Dining Terrace, overlooking downtown Dallas.
We discovered the Dallas Arboretum is so much more than “boring plants”, which was my son’s initial thought when he first heard of our plans to visit.
We were treated to a magnificent array of colors, and especially enjoyed the pumpkin village, feeling new textures (they have over 28 types of pumpkins in various shapes and skin textures!), and enjoying the fragrant smells of fall.
Best of all, we got a rare chance to see a sampler exhibit from Seattle’s famous Chihuly Museum.
The Perot Museum opened in December of 2012, is on a mission to “inspire minds through nature and science”.
The exhibits here involve ALL senses with interactive stations for the visitors to get information from buttons that provide sounds and smells of different animals and plants.
The earthquake simulator and motion activated lit walls, along with the stairs that make bubble sounds occupied our son for half an hour!
Although we’ve visited other science centers in the past, this one was different in that it provided a broader interactive platform for kids, and also provided an insight of how one’s interest in a particular aspect of science parlays in the real world into a career.
The Sixth Floor Museum gets its name from its location on the sixth and seventh floors of the Texas School Book Depository, which is the actual building from which Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
The permanent exhibit on the sixth floor features memorabilia of JFK’s life, death, and legacy while the seventh floor shows temporary exhibits.
The museum is compact, indoors, and temperature controlled, all bonuses for travelers with autism.A walk among the exhibits takes guests back to that period through visual and auditory items that help them relive history in a way few museums do.
Visitors can listen to emotional radio broadcasts as well as newspaper clippings that describe one of the hardest times America faced as a nation, from the actual place where it happened.
Have you been to Dallas and explored any of these places? What are your favorite sensory attractions across the world?