Houston has an amazing Art Car Parade each year. Its usually in the spring, and you can read more about this crazy fun event at The Art Car Parade Web Site.

For spectators who have children with challenges, there are aspects of this fun event that can be difficult. Its a crowd, its sometimes hot, there’s the occasional loud spectator (or participant), and the long line of cars trying to escape parking lots after the event can really twist the panties of even the most patient child. And if you arrive without eating first, its gonna be cranky for everyone.

The AutismHouston.com support group plans to attend this year, so I wanted to offer some hints and tips that we use to help make it a fun event for our family. These tips may not apply to everyone, pick and choose what you think works best for you.

Also, feel free to post a comment with your suggestions too!

  1. Go early – Art Cars start lining up as early as 1 and a half hours before the official parade roll. So you can arrive before the major crowd, park close by do a walking tour of the cars parked on the street. There’s lots of folks in costumes, dancing, activities, etc. One of Alex’s favorites is the school bus covered in chalk paint. They let the kids write their names on the bus before the parade starts! BONUS: if your kiddo starts getting a little cranked, you can walk back to your car and head home without getting stuck in exiting traffic!
  2. Eat Ahead of Time (and/or Bring Snacks) – There aren’t any stores close buy, so if Jr. gets cranky and occasionally needs a bite to help him settle, be sure and bring that with you. Depending on the weather, you might consider a bottle of water too.
  3. Create a “Treasure Hunt” – this will help keep everyone’s attention on the cars and festivities, and hopefully distract from things that are triggers or concerns. The treasure hunt we used last year is attached to this blog post.
    • BONUS – You can edit the treasure hunt for your child’s age and interests.
    • BONUS – You can include new words so its a teaching experience for younger and non-verbal children.
    • NOTE – Some children may feel the list I created is too long, so you can customize it as needed!
  4. Keep An Eye Out for Cars – While walking along the route (before the parade), keep an eye on cars. Art cars will be driving past as they enter their position. So if you hear a honk, politely move out of the way. 🙂
  5. Go Pee Before Arriving – There will be porta-potties, but if your child doesn’t give you much notice, you may not be close enough to make it. Did I mention they were “porta-potties”? Yeah.
  6. Careful When We Touch – Our kiddos can be very tactile and want to “experience” their surroundings with their fingers. Almost all of the car owners are happy to have kids enjoy their cars by running their fingers on the art work. But some cars may have delicate or sharp parts, and occasionally you may encounter a car owner that doesn’t want folks to touch. This is a great opportunity to teach kids how to ask “Can I touch this?”
  7. Avoiding Loud Music – Some of the cars, especially the dance floats, will have loudspeakers with music. Typically they point the speakers toward the crowd as they pass by (the “passenger side” of the vehicle). If loud music is a trigger for your kiddo, consider walking on the opposite side of that vehicle, the “driver’s side”. This way they are on the opposite side of the speaker direction. Typically there’s only 3 or 4 of these floats out of the 100+ cars that attend.
  8. Be Patient with Everyone – The parade participants have always been super friendly and super interesting. But there’s been a couple of times that spectators forgot their manners around my AUT son. It really sucks to hear “Move that kid out of the way!” from some fat 55 year old sitting in a fold out chair, trying to take a picture of something your child is standing next to. But there’s a jerk or two in every crowd, and its better to just move than be confrontational.
  9. Leave Early – Last and possibly most importantly, you don’t have to stay for the parade itself. If the family has checked off enough of the Scavenger Hunt list and attention is starting to be lost, head for the car. After the parade is over, the loooong line of cars trying to exit can crank up even the most patient person (including myself, LOL).

I hope you find these hints helpful. The Art Car Parade (and the parking before hand) is a really amazing event, and can really spark interest and creativity in kids of all ages. Consider your child’s needs and try to attend at least part of the festivities!!

Have any other suggestions/hints? Feel free to post in a comment!