A new play gym on the eastside is designed to be a safe and engaging space for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
We Rock The Spectrum has a trampoline, climbing wall, zipline, and other activities that offer safe sensory experiences for kids with special needs. But it's also open and welcoming to kids who aren't on the spectrum.
"We want to have an inclusive environment where all kids of all abilities can play together and interact with each other,” said Shirley Sarmiento-Blaha.
She and her husband Martin opened the gym to help meet the needs of their own children. Six-year-old twins Dominick and Daniel were diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 ½.
Existing play spaces didn’t work for them.
"It was a little too busy for them sometimes, so they might be just staying on the side and crying or having a meltdown,” Martin said.
He and Shirley often find themselves apologizing to complete strangers.
"We have a lot of people looking at us like, 'You're not disciplining your children,' and it's hard to tell them, 'We're trying our best but they have this condition,’” Shirley said.
No one ever has to say “I’m sorry" at We Rock The Spectrum.
Much of the equipment is similar to what's used in occupational therapy offices. Kids view the activities as fun, but they're are also therapeutic – helping regulate behavior while building strength and mobility.
"A lot of this equipment is really for balance and coordination and calming," Shirley said.
There’s also a “quiet room” in the back for kids who need a break.
"I think the kids can learn a lot from each other," Martin added.
We Rock The Spectrum is located on 132nd Ave NE and is open seven days a week. There are scholarships available for families who need help with admission fees.