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July 09, 2007

A Safe Place for Special-Needs Kids

Findaway My son went to Great America with his summer camp last Friday. The camp is for “quirky kids” who need assistance with social cues, have sensory-processing issues, and other behaviors typically exhibited by those on the autistic spectrum, regardless of whether these kids meet that or another (such as ADHD) diagnosis. My first thought when I learned of the trip was, “How could they possibly deal with so many kids who have the potential to be overwhelmed in a large, crowded, and quite-stimulating environment?

Fortunately, the camp staff is comprised of experts and of many hands! My son came home Friday afternoon beaming that he had an excellent adventure. This is in stark contrast to other seemingly-fun trips that have ended with our family in tears.

We are lucky to have so many excellent places for children nearby, such as the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Exploratorium, the San Francisco and Oakland Zoos, Oakland's Fairyland, and Berkeley’s Habitot. But, on crowded days or on during an “off” moment, these wonderful places can be not-so-wonderful.

Perhaps some on our sister blog, Chicago Moms Blog, are familiar with the Kohl Children’s Museum, a hands-on environment for children. One of my acquaintances, a mom of an autistic son, has developed a foundation whose goal is to create a museum in Northern California for special-needs kids modeled after Chicago’s Kohl Children’s Museum. I wrote about her endeavor briefly on the Karianna Spectrum last autumn, but that was before the foundation was actually formed.

Now, not only has the Find a Way Foundation been created, but it is in the top fifty finalists for the American Express Members’ Project. American Express cardmembers can vote for their favorite project before July 15, 2007 to insure it gets into the top 25 before the next round of votes. If you are so inclined, please check out the Find a Way Foundation’s entry and vote!

From their website: “Our mission is to improve and enhance the lives of special needs children and their families and to better the quality of each of our lives by fostering the acceptance, understanding and celebration of diversity. We will accomplish this mission by building Our Place, an interactive museum where children of all abilities can come together through interactive, educational play.”

The Silicon Valley and surrounding parts of Northern California have an ever-growing population of kids diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders and other sensory-processing needs which may preclude an enjoyable experience at a traditional museum. Although “bad days” certainly cannot be avoided even in the most specialized of attractions, I believe the expectation that some of the patrons might be special-needs might enable visitors to be more flexible about their judgments of other children’s behavior.

I am definitely in favor of “safe spaces” for special-needs kids, and this proposed museum, Our Place, certainly fits the bill.

In the meantime, for those of you who have had positive experiences at various Bay Area attractions, please post your tips in the comments section; I am always on the lookout for fun places to go where my son won’t feel overwhelmed.

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