The international franchise offers a place for children with sensory processing issues, developmental disabilities, and behavioral needs to play in a safe, inclusive environment.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 2, 2018
What is it like to have a sensory processing issue?
“Your body feels wiggly, and you can’t control it,” said Julian Carty, 7.
“It’s hard to do it,” he said.
“It took me a while to figure it out.”
After lots of practice, and lots of therapy, Carty has a good enough handle on his issues to make it through the school day while keeping focus.
Afterwards, though, he often wants to come home and crash into a beanbag chair, or run around the yard of his Collingswood home with friends.
Come Saturday, however, he’ll have a different option. That’s when his mom, Pip Carty cuts the ribbon on the new Audubon location of her sensory-friendly gym, We Rock the Spectrum.
A global franchise established in Tarzana, California, We Rock the Spectrum bills itself as a safe, inclusive play place for children of all ages and ability levels. “The spectrum” is short for the autism spectrum, the clinical description for the range of intensity around social behaviors and communication that people with autism may experience.
Its motto, “A Place Where You Never Have to Say ‘I’m Sorry’,” reflects a mission to be a welcoming environment for a mix of kids.
For parents, it’s an environment in which they don’t have to explain away their children’s behavior.
“If your kid is stimming [self-stimulating], walking around in circles, flapping their hands, or making a weird noise, we get it,” Pip Carty said.
Pip Carty has been working in the autism field for years; she’s the former executive director of the Delaware Valley chapter of Autism Speaks, and an educator who has taught children with developmental issues in a classroom setting. She wants to bring this experience to bear in an environment where she can be a resource for families in need.
“I think I’ll be able to help some families see past their immediate situations,” Pip Carty said. “It’s overwhelming when you get a diagnosis. I’ll be able to tell them some hopeful stories about what I’ve seen, what it looks like in the field.”
We Rock the Spectrum will provide immediate onsite resources for children with developmental needs. The gym itself is equipped to accommodate several kinds of play, from swings to climbing structures to imaginative centers. But the facility will also host an office for pediatric speech therapists MJ Kidz to deliver services directly.
“We treat children with a variety of disorders and difficulties, but many of our kids have a variety of sensory and processing difficulties,” said MJ Kidz co-owner Jodi Schechtman.
“The children will not only to be able to work out prior to our session, but we can treat them during our session, and we also have occupational therapists as well that can treat them in the gym,” she said.
“We can incorporate the social skills within the naturalistic environment of the child playing, and initiate social interaction with typically developing children as well.”
The partnership with MJ Kidz will also allow for siblings of children receiving services to play in the gym for a reduced rate during the session, which Schechtman and Pip Carty said helps families network, socialize, and collaborate with a variety of professionals.
“A lot of children come to our facility several times a week, and they’re waiting for their siblings to get the therapy they need, and they’re spending a lot of time in the waiting room,” Schechtman said.
“This will provide them the opportunity to socialize in a very sensory-friendly environment, and parents will socialize with their peers who have children with similar difficulties, so they will get the socialization they need and be able to collaborate with other professionals,” she said.
Pip Carty said We Rock the Spectrum is also available for therapists to deliver services to families whose insurance won’t cover the number of sessions their children need.
“They’ll be able to pay the open play fee, $12 per kid, and use the equipment and play while they work,” she said.
“It’ll make therapy available for people, and give therapists a place to have clients on the side.”
The social strategies that children learn in an immersive, inclusive environment can also help them develop a playbook for future encounters in difficult sensory environments like playgrounds, school, and elsewhere.
“Children can generalize those skills back to back,” Schechtman said. “We’re very happy to partner with such a unique professional who is doing something like this and helping so many children and families.”
Pip Carty said the 4,300-square-foot gym will support birthday parties, special events, classes, and summer camp. A multi-hour pass is $12 for one child and $10 for a sibling; day passes are $20 and allow guests to come and go as they please.
“People are ready for it,” Pip Carty said. “I think we can really put Audubon on the map for services.”
Julian Carty believes that We Rock the Spectrum can bridge the social gulf between children with sensory issues and those who are normally developing by showing them how better to negotiate one another.
“I want my friends to come so they can understand what having special needs is like, and how it helps other kids,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re different with special needs,” Julian Carty said.
“You’re the same deep-down in your body.”
We Rock the Spectrum is located at 110 Black Horse Pike, Suite D3A, in Audubon.
For more information, call 818-996-6620 or visit werockthespectrumaudubon.com.
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