Released By Osceola County Community Outreach/Public Information Office
Osceola County opened an innovative, all-inclusive park last week that caters to children on the Autism spectrum and is believed to be the first of its kind in Florida.
SENSES Park’s colorful design focuses on sensory awareness and individual or small group exploration and play. The structures are separated by space to allow for self-learning, exploration and less intense social play experiences for those on the Autism disorder spectrum.
“When I envisioned this park and the children who will play here, I knew that Osceola County would once again be an innovator. I’m glad to see this play space become a reality because there are a lot of families who wanted and needed this. Inclusion is a key component of SENSES. This is a wonderful space and I am confident that children of all abilities will enjoy this playground,” said District 2 Commissioner Viviana Janer. “This park will offer new and exciting opportunities for many families in our community. It will support positive interactions and emphasize the abilities of children with special needs rather than their disabilities.”
Autism spectrum disorder is a broad phrase that refers to a group of developmental disabilities that impact the brain that is characterized by social, communication and behavioral delays or abnormalities. It affects about one in 59 children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is four times more common in boys than girls.
While the Osceola School District (including Charter Schools) has 1,244 students with Autism, there are also others in the community – either too young or too old for school – who will also be able to enjoy the park.
No matter their age, those on the Autism spectrum may have difficulty communicating and interacting with others.
“Providing play areas that take into account the unique perceptions and sensory issues of children on the spectrum allows them to gain the benefits of outdoor play while easing some symptoms,” Janer noted.
The inclusive play space is fully-accessible for children who use wheelchairs. A key feature for parents is a perimeter fence, so that children can’t wander or bolt. The playground offers multiple sensory options, for example: music instruments to play and sand to dig in, as well as a wheelchair accessible merry-go-round.
SENSES Park Facts:
· The park was designed in 2018 by County employees Bob Mindick, Director of Parks and Public Lands and John Arend, Planner with assistance from Danny Quinn, Quinn Construction, and Richard Klar, Osceola Engineering. A special thanks for the input and review of Dr. Laufey Sigurdardottir, Nemours.
· Besides all of the playground equipment, the park offers two small picnic pavilions, three water fountains and a restroom facility.
· Soft plants such as Muhly grass are encouraged to be touched. Colorful flowers also provide sensory stimulation to guests.
· A unique feature to this park is the musical circle of free note instruments, which provides opportunities to blend the melodic sounds and rhythms created by bongo drums, xylophones and marimba all in one play space.
· Subtle play and sensory opportunities are also present to allow self-discovery, such as dinosaur bones hidden in the sandbox, a small hill to climb or roll down in the center of the park and the soundscape created by a multi-speaker system spread throughout the park.
· The soundscape was provided by the generosity of John Teer of Teer Audiovisual and Ron Domingue of Dais Technologies.