Friday, August 14, 2015

Inclusive Sensory Park and Playground

"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood."
  - Fred Rogers
Alright...this is blog post about Glade Run's newest project, with some personal bits thrown in for flavoring.  First of all, I need to tell you that I was asked by someone at Glade Run if I could give this project a plug on my blog.  I didn't get paid to write it, though, nor would I have written it if I didn't think it was a great idea. But it here's the "plug".

I'll ramble around in circles that slowly spiral inward until my point is revealed.  As is the custom of my people.

(outskirts of the circle)
A few years ago a friend of mine did a crowd-sourced funding for a project of hers.  It was a sensory gym.  Essentially it was (in my words) an OT's view of what a children's play area should be for kids who want, no NEED, sensory input to help regulate themselves.  You might compare it to a sensory room, but turbocharged.  Bigger, more stuff, more feedback.  I loved the idea.  I wished we had something like it in the area.  We could brave Chuck E. Cheese, or hang out in the kiddie section of the amusement park, but Lily keeps getting bigger, and her presence is less and less welcome in the areas of those places where she looms much larger than the 2 and 3 year old children it is truly geared for.

(inching closer)
A year or so ago (because my wife worked there) I learned about Jeremiah's Village.  This was a project that Glade Run is undertaking right now to design and build an entire community specifically geared toward accommodating people of all abilities, and including them.  It's being built right now.  The local paper did an article about it, and my daughter got sneezed on by a horse in the picture section (she volunteers in the animal program at Glade Run).  For more on that click here: Jeremiah's Village

When it was first introduced, they talked about housing where caregivers could live together with, side-by-side, or in the same community with their loved ones in an apartment style setting.  And I immediately had visions of one day retiring to an apartment where Lily could live in an adjoining apartment; it was every autism parent's commune fantasy come true.

(crawling a teensy bit nearer my point)
This inclusion really seems to be central to Glade Run's thinking.  Jeremiah's Village seems to be all about inclusion.  It almost seems like it would be "easier" to build something that catered solely to those autistic people who needed it.  This vision seems broader.  This vision seems more in keeping with what my understanding of "acceptance" is.  Acceptance isn't recognizing that some people have different needs and creating specific programs just for those kids/adults who need them.  Acceptance is creating opportunities for those people to join everyone else doing what they're doing.  Acceptance is recognizing that the playing field is tilted and instead of building a new playing field for those who struggle with angles...untilting it. 

(nearing my point)
One reason many autism parents (and I'll speak for all autism parents here knowing full well that there are almost as many different viewpoints among autism parents as there are autism parents) struggle with inclusion on the tilted field, is because of the stares.  Because people by and large judge and make assumptions about behavior without knowing the story.  Every does it.  That won't ever change.  I have been told I shouldn't have taken Lily to a movie theater unless I could keep her quiet.  I have been asked to leave a church because Lily's volume was disrupting the organ player's Easter music.  I have been asked to move my seat during a school talent show because Lily was too loud and was hurting her child's ears.  Every time something like this happened, it drove me further and further toward not taking Lily with me anywhere.  Every time I felt ostracized.  Every time I felt judged.  Every time I felt excluded.  And it drove me further and further toward just excluding her from everything.

And the above isn't meant to reproach any of the people involved in it.  I was plenty pissed, don't get me wrong.  But ultimately, the theater wasn't an inclusive environment.  People paid money to enjoy the movie and were irritated that they thought Lily would drown out the show.  The organist playing the packed Easter mass was sitting right next to the overflow seating in the balcony where we had to sit.  She couldn't focus on her job with Lily next to her.  The woman sitting right in front of us at the talent show had every right to be concerned about her son's ears.  She had sat down before us.  She and her family had every right to enjoy the talent show just like mine.  (Honestly though, she was sitting directly in front of the speakers, and Lily's volume was nowhere near the loudest thing assailing the poor boy's ears.  Some people are just assholes)

(Okay...we've arrived)
Glade Run is building an inclusive park.  This is a park with a level playing field.  It's not for autistic kids.  It's not for neurotypical kids.  It's for everyone.  And the needs of everyone have been weighed and incorporated where practical for everyone.  They're calling it a Sensory Park and Playground, and a sketch from their crowd-source webpage is here... looks like a playground, right?  It IS!  So what makes it "inclusive"?  How is this park any different than any other park?  Why is this park exciting to Jim Walter, "Target Guy", "flusher of sporns" and autism parent visionary??

Here are some design bullet points. (See the link below for a more thorough explanation)
  1. enclosed to help prevent bolting
  2. organized separated play zones
  3. retreat spaces, quiet zones, and separation to minimize overstimulation
  4. incorporates sensory elements:  touch, scent, movement, sound
  5. play elements designed to aid body awareness and improve motor skills
  6. social opportunities.  play equipment designed for use by more than one child.
  7. ammenities.  restroom, lighting, landscaping, shelters, picnic areas.
I really hope you click the link below.  I think this vision of inclusion and acceptance is one worth rewarding.  And yeah, many, or even most of you are reading this from far away from buccolic Zelienople.  To you I would say, support this park, and then encourage your own local charity, foundation, school board, or community to use it as a blueprint for your OWN park.

Check out the link "Glade Run - Inclusive Sensory Park and Playground"


  1. This is a really wonderful idea, I hope they reach their goal.

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