A children’s gym recently opened in Lafayette is one of few in the state to offer equipment tailored for children on the autism spectrum.
“Yeah, I like the arts and crafts, and this part – there’s a lot of stuff I like,” says Trenton Coleman, 7, about his favorite things at the new Lafayette gym.
It’s called We Rock the Spectrum and it looks like others in Lafayette, just with less equipment and softer music. That’s because it’s tailored to sensory needs of children on the autism spectrum, such as Lafayette resident Cait Coleman’s youngest son, Trenton’s little brother.
“I like the calming room, because we do have fits sometimes and it makes me feel more comfortable being here alone with them, versus if we were to go somewhere else,” Cait Coleman says. “If he were to have a meltdown – I accept it, but not everyone else does. So, I just feel a lot more at ease.”
Owner Meagan Carrero worked as an applied behavioral analysis therapist before opening the facility. She also has a son diagnosed with autism and says she saw a need for an autism-inclusive facility in Lafayette.
“We don’t really have a place like that here and it’s something that we really loved about the concept – that we have kids of all abilities being able to come and play together, learn from each other, encourage that acceptance and that understanding,” she says.
Therapists believe exercise can teach children those social skills. Alicia Pearson works at West Lafayette’s Cornerstone Autism Center and says physical activity can be a motivator and a learning experience.
She says when children do group activities such as like jumping on the trampoline together, they’re learning on several levels.
“So they’re getting the physical input as well as learning to take turns and requests from others during those physical activities and games,” Pearson says.
Just down the road from We Rock the Spectrum Kids Gym, Kyle Goodman is a manager at My Gym Lafayette. He says they usually host about 15 families during their open play periods, including children with special or sensory needs that attend separately from occupational therapy.
“[Occupational therapy] is a little bit more expensive than coming here, and they’re getting the same results – if not better results – coming here,” he says.
Still, Goodman says it’s good for the community to have a sensory-safe gym in town, too.
Riley Child Development Center clinical psychologist Rebecca McNally says all children have sensory differences, but those with neurodevelopmental disorders may become overwhelmed more easily.
“It can be really challenging for them to feel comfortable and secure in their environment, especially in environments that are highly stimulating,” she says.
And Lynne Kaminski, an occupational therapist at Indianapolis’ Riley Children’s Hospital, says sensory gyms can be therapeutic in ‘resetting’ certain senses – like how a swing makes a child aware of their body’s movement and place in space.
The equipment at We Rock the Spectrum is custom-made to be adaptive to kids with sensory or special needs – a population which appears to be growing.
According to the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, the number of Hoosier children identified on the autism spectrum has increased 37-percent since 2010.