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Tips for Taking Special Needs Kids to the Rodeo

Michelle Casas Groogan
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Duncan Graham, Catherine Graham

Duncan Graham, 14, and his mom, Catherine Burch Graham, enjoy a day out at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in 2017.

There’s no mistaking the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a wonderful sensory experience for kids, but the sights, sounds and smells can be overwhelming for children with special needs.

The Rodeo has a wide range of wonderful entertainment for families, but we wanted to hear from parents of special needs kids who brave the crowds. Here are some tips on what they do to make the experience a positive one:

  • The crowds, music and fireworks can be loud, so take noise-canceling headphones. Or bring a pair of old headphones with the wires cut off; now you have instant ear protectors from loud sounds both inside and outside the stadium and arena.
  • Don’t go around the time a concert is letting out; instead, go early in the day before the concert or early on weekdays before school groups arrive, if you’re just visiting the grounds.
  • Don’t go on cheap days or special visitors’ days because of the increase in crowd size. If you do go to the concert, leave before the last song in order to avoid the mass exodus.
  • Bring your own food if your child is on a special diet or might want a specific food that might not be available at the Rodeo.
  • When I take my son, who has autism, to the Rodeo I bring an iPad, even though there is no wifi to access Internet; he uses it to listen to his library of music, which is calming for him. This comes in handy with long lines and long waits for the concert.
  • Opt for comfortable shoes instead of boots, unless, of course, your child is used to wearing boots.  

“The Rodeo is known for its support of children. And that holds true for their program welcoming children with special needs. Our son, Duncan, enjoys it immensely every year,” said Catherine Graham, Westwood resident.

Michelle Groogan, Garrett Groogan

Buzz Staff Writer Michelle Groogan with her son, Garrett, 14, at the Rodeo this past weekend.

The Rodeo has a Special Children’s Committee dedicated to making the Rodeo accessible for all.

“The Special Children’s Committee provides opportunities for children and adults with a wide variety of disabilities to experience all the Rodeo has to offer. Our special events include the Top Hands Horse Show, hosting equine therapy groups from across Texas, to Showtime events, including Day Tours in AgVenture, Fun on the Farm and the Pig Races, to the Lil Rustlers Rodeo, and opportunities to see real life cowboys compete at the world’s greatest rodeo,” said Pat Mann, HLSR Vice President and Officer in Charge of the Special Children’s Committee.

The Lil’ Rustlers Rodeo happens this week, March 6, 7 & 8 at 5 p.m. Lil’ Rustlers Rodeo gives children with special needs the opportunity to be a Rodeo star with playful stick horse races, seesaws turned into bulls and hay barrels resembling steers.

The Special Children’s Committee interfaces with schools and social service agencies for groups to attend Lil Rustlers Rodeo. If your child would like to participate, contact your child’s school district special education department, or a support association or therapy organization that serves your child.

See Rodeo Families: Generations of Volunters by Michelle Casas Groogan to read about generations of Buzz families involved in the Rodeo. 

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