When Connor was younger, a trip to the park required a high-protein breakfast and a good, solid pair of running shoes. It was common for him, without any notice, to take off running as fast as his little legs would carry him. Whether for the feeling of the breeze blowing through his hair, or the sweet, sweet taste of freedom tantalizingly close, we will never know exactly what drove this desire to bolt like an unbroken stallion.
Venturing to the park with Connor was never a solo mission for either my husband or myself. Not because we were lazy, but because it was dangerous. Chatting idly with another parent or sitting peacefully on a bench and reading a book were not options. We had to be alert at all times, and stay close to the boy, lest he disappear quicker than a winning lottery ticket.
A simple outing to the park is a stressful situation for many parents of children with special needs. I remember wishing for a place I could take him, where he would have a certain degree of freedom, but would still be safe.
Recently, an inclusive park opened less than 5 miles from our home, and this past weekend I had the chance to team up with a friend and her daughter, and take Connor.
“The essence of our effort to see that every child has a chance must be to ensure each an equal opportunity, not to become equal, but to become different, to realize whatever unique potential of body, mind and spirit he or she possesses.” That right there, that is inclusion.
The first thing I noticed about the park was that it’s completely enclosed by a fence, with a double gate at the entrance. While a fence may be reminiscent of a prison for some, for me it represents a safe, confined freedom.
The park is divided into different sensory play areas. Each area is big enough to accommodate a large number of children, and each area is wheelchair accessible. We spent 20 minutes in the sandbox.
There was an area with instruments for those that appreciate auditory sensory input.
.For the child that craves movement, via rocking or swinging, there is a sway cart (I don’t know what else to call it) that rocks back and forth, based on your body moving forward and back to cause movement. Unless you have a willing mom, who will stand and make the thing rock like a carnival ride for you.
Of course, there was an extra-large playscape:
Oh, and more stuff for kids that like movement:
Easily the most unique and fantastic thing about this park is the mini-city. Yes, I said MINI-CITY!! They have mock buildings for the grocery store, hospital, library, and fire station. And they have a mock street, complete with crosswalks and a street light. For any parent that is nervous about teaching their young child about street safety and learning to cross a street, it is the perfect place to begin practicing that skill.
About the only thing missing from the park was a water play area, which would be a popular feature here in Texas, due to the high summer temps. And I know my son would spend most of his time in the water.
I absolutely loved the design of the park. More than that, I loved seeing NT kids playing right alongside kids with special needs. When we talk about wanting inclusion for our children, it starts right here on the local level, with a park like this one. It’s autism awareness month, and this is the kind of thing we should be advocating for in every community, because integration begins with our children learning to play together and accept one another’s differences.
Big kudos to the city of Round Rock, Texas, for making this park a reality. You can read more about it here: http://www.roundrocktexas.gov/playforall.
We had such a fabulous time at the park, we stopped on the way home to take pictures of wildflowers. And what did that little shit do?
I don’t think I’ll be packing away my running shoes just yet.