October 19, 2020
The All-Inclusive Playground in Osceola County was created for children with autism and related disabilities. [Credit: Nicole Marie Gonzalez]
(Kissimmee, Fla.) – Before the pandemic, it was almost impossible to walk by SENSES playground on Buenaventura Boulevard without noticing the colorful structures inside the fenced-off park.
Built in 2019, the all-inclusive playground caters specifically to children on the autism spectrum, a developmental disability that can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. But it was shuttered for several months due to the pandemic.
“Our children have definitely been affected by the lockdown,” said Aimara Rodriguez, Hispanic Family Liaison for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD). “They benefit from physical activities to support some of their sensory deficiencies and it helps them with any anxiety or depression symptoms they may have.”
SENSES provides children with the opportunity to wander freely and safely while focusing on exploration and sensory awareness. The playground has a variety of ambient sound systems, like ocean waves and birds chirping to soothe children with autism, as well as touch stations to play with dinosaur fossils.
But between March and September, the familiar laughs and giggles that typically echoed through the playground were gone.
“When the quarantine and lockdown started, their routines were suddenly stopped and it can be extremely hard for them to understand these abrupt changes,” said Rodriguez.
With the parks closed, organizations like CARD continued to remotely provide parents with support and educational seminars. They also offer virtual consultations to help families provide appropriate sensory experiences to their children in the safety of their home while following local quarantine regulations.
These alternatives strive to help children with autism and their families. Osceola County Parks Department has reopened the SENSES playground and requiring children to wear masks and practice social distancing efforts.