Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Play room allows kids with autism to bounce off walls for fun

From The San Jose, Calif., Mercury News:

Once a month, parents turn their autistic children loose in a Sunnyvale play room where they hurl themselves against the playground equipment.

Everything rocks, bounces, leans. The floors, the walls, the massive pillars. While children play - literally bouncing off the walls - parents kick back.

"This is heaven for us," said Elsa Nelson, unfazed by screaming, careening children, as she prepared to enter one of the bouncy rooms inside Pump It Up with her 5-year-old son, Lucas.

The popular indoor playground with oversize inflatable slides, obstacle courses, boxing and jousting rooms has become an important gathering place for Nelson, of San Jose, and many South Bay parents and their autistic children. For all its unsteadiness, it's the one, rock-solid place, they said, where their children can play with unfettered, hyperkinetic energy, and where parents don't worry about how other parents and kids are going to perceive them.

On a recent evening, a 19-month-old girl was having a crying fit about a toy car. No one lost their cool. Gabriel Nelson, 7, was on a padded mat face up, calmly making angels while other children emerging from Chaos, the obstacle course, piled around him. Ryan Daugherty had his face pressed to the netted window of the jousting room.
"Hi!" he hollered to his mother, Christine Daugherty. Then he turned and resumed jumping.

"I can't explain why he likes jumping," said Daugherty. "It just seems to kind of regulate his system. When he gets more of this physical activity, he's more relaxed."

Daugherty, whose 4-year-old daughter is also autistic, has seen her children happily play in rented bouncy houses at birthday parties. So when she heard about a group of parents of autistic children in Southern California meeting routinely to play at Pump It Up, she approached Walter Fried, owner of the Sunnyvale franchise. He offers a discounted rate to the parents of two dozen or more children who come to play during "Autism Night," every third Tuesday of the month.

It draws parents and children from San Jose, Mountain View and Gilroy.

"It's just nice to be around other parents who can relate to what you're going through," she said. "It's good to be talking to each other while the kids are having a blast."