KISSIMMEE, Fla. – For families who have children on the autism spectrum, their day to day can be challenging.
Like any other child, they also need some playtime and interaction with other kids. When Andrea Beasley found there were no special indoor playgrounds that offer sensory-based toys and activities for children who have autism and other conditions, she decided to make a difference and open a We Rock the Spectrum kid’s gym in Kissimmee.
“This is a mission for us, but I wish my daughter had it because now she’s older and doesn’t have a great sense of self-esteem … I’m sorry, it’s just so hard for me,” Beasley tearfully said.
Her journey has been an emotional one ever since her daughter was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder in 2012: a condition where the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses, causing children to become overwhelmed and resulting in confusing behavior.
“She felt like no one understood her for so long and then finally we could understand her. So that was a big deal,” Beasley recalled after behavioral specialists in Arizona were able to pinpoint her daughter’s condition.
Beasley said she finds some comfort in the kid’s gym she opened. The indoor playground is specially designed with sensory-play equipment to cater to children on the autism spectrum.
“We just want to fill that gap, try to provide something that fills them up and helps remind them who they truly are,” she said.
The gym offers a variety of toys and activities like arts and crafts that help kids with stimulating their seven senses.
“Children on the spectrum can come in if they’re having a rough day, like their parents will say they’ve had a rough day today, they’ll they come in a lot of times they go right to the swings,” the Rhode Island native said.
The children play with a purpose with exercises that help with physical, emotional, and social development.
“Whether it be visual, whether it be tactical that they’re touching, that’s why we have a variety because we never know what each child is necessarily needing,” she said.
A place Andrea says gives them a sense of belonging.
“It means so much to me just ‘cause I would see my daughter come home every day and feel excluded. That is the most painful thing to see a child not included and feeling like they’re not good enough,” she said. “If we can change one child, you know, that makes me feel better about it.”