Melbourne Mum Opens A Play Gym Especially For Kids With Autism

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Playgrounds can be daunting places at times—especially for parents with autistic children. The sometimes erratic behaviours that their child exhibits and the sensory overload that they experience can render a trip to the playground just not worth the hassle.

That was Melbourne mum, Sally Johnson’s experience, when taking her son to the park made her feel challenged and judged by other parents. This became incredibly isolating and lonely for Sally and her son Digby, and there seemed to be no space that Digby felt comfortable playing in public.

Image: ABC News

So, Sally took matters into her own hands. She opened Australia’s first indoor play centre, catered specifically for children on the autism spectrum.

Sally’s gym in the North Melbourne suburb of Preston, is a franchise of American company We Rock The Spectrum Kid’s Gyms — who are committed to providing a safe, nurturing, and fun environment to foster learning, exploration and safe sensory experiences to assist with neurological growth and development in children with autism.

A Play Gym With Subtle Twists

We Rock The Spectrum has transformed a former warehouse and kitted it out with all of the hallmarks of a standard kids play centre. It’s not until you look more closely, that you notice the subtle changes that make all of the difference to kids on the autism spectrum.

Climbing equipment especially designed by occupational therapists, toys, art supplies and a trampoline create a colourful, sensory wonderland of play, whilst a rock-climbing wall with a zip line encourages plenty of activity and a sensory wall allows children to explore different textures. A calming room is filled with bean bags and dull light for children who need some time out.

Image: 9News

The lighting is specifically engineered to suit children who are light sensitive; it’s natural, non-fluorescent and subtle enough to ensure relaxation. Music might be played softly unless a child isn't coping with it, in which case it will be turned off. 

Every detail has been thought of to provide children with a fun and motivational environment to help them with movement, sensory processing, communication skills, positive behaviour modification, social interactions, and self-care skills. 

It’s Not Just For Children On The Autism Spectrum

That’s right, while the philosophy and design of the gym is geared towards kids with autism, neurotypical children enjoy the play centre just as much. The changes are subtle enough to ensure that children without autism barely notice, while children with autism thrive.

Image: 9News

In addition to open play sessions, the gym offers exclusive use of the gym for birthday parties and special events, as well as sensory safe classes and therapy groups for all children and abilities.

It’s a socially inclusive place that benefits the children and the staff—all of whom either have a disability or care for someone who does. Sally’s dream is to see a lot more similar, sensory gyms pop up around the country, to create a safe space in which all children can be themselves.

Check out the gym at 378-380 Gilbert Road, Preston, Victoria, 3072. The gym is open every day, Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 6pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 9.30am to 5pm. Check out their website for more details.

Hero image: 9News

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