A week ago, knowing that I wanted to write this month’s column on Autism Awareness Month, I went to a few of my groups on LinkedIn and Facebook where parents who are raising children with autism hang out. I asked them this questions, “If there was one thing that you wished your neighborhood playground had, what would it be?”
Now we all know that sometimes when we ask questions on social media we get no response, while other times we get tons of responses. In this case, it was the latter. Within 24 hours, I had 150 responses to my question.
So for all of the parents who are too busy advocating for schooling, medical care and therapy, and mainly living their lives, here are their collective thoughts about what should happen in our parks.
Dear Mr. Mayor,
Our children have autism. We only ask for one thing for the playgrounds in our neighborhood. A fence! “Elopement is a huge issue in the world of ASD, so our kids have very little opportunity to be KIDS because of the need for us to be immediately beside them at every given moment. A simple fence means your child can climb monkey bars, go up slides, run in the grass, like every other child, and be safe.” “Children don’t need us hovering all the time like border guards,” so yes, a fence please.
Right now it is very stressful to take my son to the playground. A fence would make it so much easier. “My son does best when he free ranges and can explore. But on the other hand he has no sense of boundaries so he will just go further and further.” With a fence he can thrive.
Mr. Mayor, if you ask 100 parents who are raising children with autism what the one thing they would want in their playground, over 50% of them would request a fence without even having to think. So please, consider adding fences at our neighborhood playgrounds. It would help us so much.
The other things we want to bring up are the same ones that parents who are raising neuro-typical children would like: shade, family restrooms, and well-maintained equipment. So once you have dealt with the fence issue, we ask you consider these issues as well.
Dear Ms. Playground Designer,
Our children want to jump, bounce, spin, and swing. Can you figure out how to add more of these to our playgrounds?
In the UK, they have figured out how to put built-in trampolines into playgrounds. Can’t you figure out how to do that here within the safety regulations?
Who doesn’t like to swing? Can you create more different types of sensory swings? Maybe ones with music or lights. How about swings designed for larger children or adults who still need some support? Group swings? Platform swings? We love swings—the more varieties you come up with the better. There are always lines at the swings at all the playgrounds near us, so we know our children are not the only ones who want more swings.
We also want more ways to spin. Can you create something that will physically support a child while they are spinning? Can you figure out how to bring merry-go-rounds back to the playground? We love merry-go-rounds.
We also miss teeter-totters. They are so good for cooperative play and for the bouncing sensation. Anything that you can come up with to encourage side-by-side play and/or cooperative play would be great.
Pretend play pieces, especially dinosaurs, trains, and other vehicles would be appreciated. Sand and water play would also be a nice addition to the playground.
Please help us give our children what they need for brain development, calming and regulating, and just pure fun: swinging, spinning, jumping, and bouncing.
Your future customers
To my neighbors:
All I really need in my neighborhood park are “neuro-typical kids that would accept my kid and play with him.” Can you help me with that?
Top photo: Courtesy of Huck Nets (UK) Ltd of Bridport in Dorset http://www.huck-net.co.uk/