Guest Blogger Dina Kimmel writes this week…
How Sensory Gyms Help Kids on the Autism Spectrum
A trampoline, a zip line, and a climbing structure — these may sound like typical pieces of equipment at any regular kids gym. In actuality, they help foster an inclusive learning and play environment. They are some of the necessary pieces of equipment found in a sensory gym.
A sensory gym is designed to serve and accommodate the sensory needs of children with sensory processing disorders, such as autism. Unique, specially-designed equipment helps children improve their sensory functions while reducing sensory overload – allowing all kids to have fun!
I embarked on my journey with autism when my son Gabriel was diagnosed with autism at two and a half years old. Upon hearing that news, my husband and I put our heads together to try and form a family unit that would be right for him. At the suggestion of his occupational therapist, I turned our bedroom into a mini sensory gym, full of sensory-safe equipment for children such as Gabriel to play and learn.
The sensory gym was an immediate hit. To our surprise, Gabriel’s neurotypical older sister, Sophia, found enjoyment in the equipment as well. Sophia and her friends would play with the sensory equipment after school, without care that it was a gym designed for a child with special needs. For both Gabriel and Sophia, the only thing that mattered to them about the sensory equipment was that they were having fun.
Take, for example, the trampoline. For children with special needs, playing on the trampoline supports their proprioceptive sense for movement as communicated through the ligaments, joints and muscles. But when it comes to benefiting ALL kids, the trampoline supports lower body strength, coordination, and balance.
It’s very similar to the climbing structure, which enhances the body awareness and motor planning. Body weight, combined with gravity provides proprioceptive feedback to the child’s joints, helping them fine-tune the coordination of their movements. This gross motor play is crucial sensory input for children with special needs, but benefits children that are not on the spectrum as well. Physiological benefits aside… climbing to the top of something is just plain fun!
It shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that once running a sensory gym became my full-time business, other autism families would want to do the same. We are now an international kid’s gym franchise, providing kids worldwide with sensory gyms that can help bring out the best of their abilities.
The beauty of an inclusive sensory gym is that children of all abilities can enjoy the equipment. Usually, only minor adjustments are made to traditional gym staples to make them suitable for kids with special needs. When children of varying abilities are able to play together in a safe, nurturing, inclusive environment, they grow in their ability to socialize and interact with one another.
Not only has a sensory gym been imperative for the physical development of my son Gabriel, but it has also strengthened the relationship between him and his sister Sophia. When I see them both having fun and playing together on the equipment, I cannot deny the impact that our gym has had on their lives.
Whether your kids like to climb, jump, swing, or crawl, fun is a universal language spoken by ALL children, no matter their ability. Children on the spectrum benefit from a sensory gym when it helps them with gross motor play and coordination, but when coupled with the opportunity to play alongside neurotyical kids who enjoy the equipment as well, they receive the invaluable social experience that’s rare to find anywhere else.
Dina Kimmel is the CEO and Founder of We Rock the Spectrum, a sensory kids gym franchise with over 70 locations across the world. An autism mom, she is a passionate advocate for children, and has dedicated her life to developing and growing resources for the special needs population. Dina has been featured on NBC and CBS news, the Huffington Post, The Franchise Times, and LA Parent. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. For more on Dina, visit WRTSFranchise.com.