Feature Article - November 2010
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Play Date

What's New on the Playground?

By Deborah Vence

The Universal Playground

Children with special needs can have anything from mild learning disabilities to extreme mental retardation, including autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. In particular, autism is on the rise with a December 2009 ADDM autism prevalence report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stating that the prevalence of autism has risen to one in every 110 births in the United States and almost one in 70 boys.

In turn, more playground manufacturers are stepping up to the plate to address the needs of children with disabilities by considering the general design of a playground.

"What's being discovered is the importance for the sensory systems of children with ASD and SID to be given the sensory input that they require," Lanier said. "The playground gives a child the opportunity to 'feed' the vestibular and proprioceptive sensory systems through heavy work and movement and it is this heavy work and movement that will calm and refocus the child. This is the most important aspect of a child's educational setting, to allow these opportunities, so that the child can function as their peers do."

Lanier said that activities such as swinging, rocking, spinning, pulling, pushing and heavy work are crucial to finding homeostasis, or balance, in the sensory system.

"These sensory activities are calming to the nervous system and help refocus a child," he said. "Swinging and motion-oriented components have helped improve these sensory systems, and I believe we'll see more designs integrate these features."

Lindsay Richardson, director of marketing and sales administration, new business development, for a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based designer, manufacturer and marketer of a range of commercial and consumer playground and park equipment, said her company's new line of playground products focus on inclusion, so children of all abilities can participate.

"It's designed for children of all abilities. Every child has different abilities. There's something for everybody because it's open-ended play. There's no right or wrong way to play, whether a child is in a wheelchair, has autism or site impairment," Richardson said.

The product, which can be used indoors and outdoors, includes large-scale, modular play elements that children can use separately or together in any combination.

She said her company does a lot of work around inclusion. Many people think that mobility disability is the only disability. But, there are also many different kinds of sensory disabilities, including hearing impairment, and the autism spectrum.

"It's just being launched now this year, and the best way to describe its usage is that it has a home base, because you can move it around," she said. "Within the park and recreation district, it can be used indoors and outdoors, where there are fitness facilities. I think the best example is a community center, day camps, after-school programming."

For example, the play product, which was designed by two visual artists in the United Kingdom, can be used for team building activity.