What goes into making a park autism-friendly for children?
It is well known that children grow emotionally, physically, and cognitively through play. This is true for all children, with and without disability.
However, making a children’s park accessible is about more than just building a ramp. There are many children with cognitive or sensory disabilities, or those on the autism spectrum.
Ramp access to a children’s park or a playground and putting equipment on the ground-level is not enough. For children with autism, initial entry and the height of play equipment are not obstacles.
Making parks truly inclusive
So how does one design an inclusive children’s park to ensure that every child can share in the fun?
There are three aspects of play: physical, social, and sensory. Sensory play is especially important for children with autism as they often have issues with sensory processing. They may feel either over-stimulated or under-stimulated by their senses. This means they avoid or seek certain sensations, like loud noises or crowds.
An inclusive playground should anticipate these various aspects, says Kavitha Krishnamurthy, mother to a special child, and the brainchild of Kilikili.
Kilikili is a campaign that has made many parks in Bengaluru and other cities accessible to all children, with and without disabilities.
There's a saying, "if you've seen one person with autism, you have seen one person with autism". It is a spectrum, so on all features you will find both ends to be true. So one person may be so sensitive to touch that labels on clothes can bother him tremendously. Another may be so oblivious that even pain may not register. …One may constantly need movement, another may find movement distressing – Kavitha Krishnamurthy, Founder, Kilikili
A children’s park needs to reflect these varying sensory needs.
Creating sensory-friendly parks
- A lot of sand in the play area stimulates the tactile or touch system in a child with autism.
- An integration track, which is a kind of a walkway, with different types of materials for tactile stimulation such as grass, sand, pebbles, tiles, etc. should be included.
- Include elements that have both passive and interactive movements in the playground structures. Like tyre swings that offer 360 degree rotation so kids benefit from both random and motivated movements.
- Keep loose building materials so a child can create his or her own structures. This could include plastic objects or wooden blocks. Choose colours that are soothing as bright colours may overwhelm some children.
- A quiet, partially covered corner where the child can retreat for a while if he or she feels overwhelmed.
Installing these features is fairly easy, says Krishnamurthy.
We have worked with existing commercial play equipment manufacturers and explained to them what we need. We have also designed our own play materials and constructed them out of tyres, bricks etc. A challenge has been to find people with levels of skill that can bring our vision to reality – Kavitha Krishnamurthy, Founder, Kilikili
The cost of installing such equipment is within the range for most play equipment, adds Krishnamurthy. What is important is that the person choosing the equipment be clear about the needs of children with different disabilities.
Kilikili has brought out a manual to help people who want to build inclusive play spaces. To find out more, visit https://inclusiveplayindia.wordpress.com/kilikili-inclusive-play-manual/.
So, come forward to make inclusive children’s parks a reality across India!
Read the other stories in our Inclusive Couples series: