Sensory playgrounds benefiting the autistic new to Tampa parks

By Katie Jones, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, August 28, 2017

Three popular Tampa parks are about to get a big upgrade that could benefit thousands of families with special needs.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn recently declared Tampa an Autism friendly city and now, leaders are taking even more steps to make sure everyone feels safe and included.

Thanks in part to a national grant, city leaders will soon install sensory sensitive playground equipment at New Tampa Community, Al Lopez, and Takomah Trail parks that will benefit children with Autism or related disorders.

Aimee Addison’s 15-year-old son Ethan was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called Angelman Syndrome as a toddler.

"The most detrimental part of it is that it is part of a seizure disorder and he is non-verbal," Addison said.

Addison said Ethan isn’t able to go to most parks and interact with crowds of children because it’s unsafe for him. She said the new playground equipment will be a big help.

"We've been to place where there's sand and mulch and we just can't do it he continues to fall," Addison said.

The plans are still in the works but Parks and Recreation leaders are looking at equipment that could offer a quiet zone to avoid over stimulation and that will be easier for children to grab on to.

"The whole idea is to add equipment to the playground that mom or dad can have one child that's enjoying the equipment they need while the other child enjoys regular equipment or they can play on both sides we want it to be inclusive for everyone," City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department’s Projects and Services Coordinator Jason Mackenzie said.

The city collaborated with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities on the project and CARD’s Executive Director said thousands will benefit from it.

"Coming to an open space, coming to a place where it's not clear what the rules and expectations are, being in a location where it's loud and chaotic, all of these can impact children," Dr. Karen Berkman said.

The new equipment aims to give children and families a sense of inclusion and open opportunities for everyone to play, explore, and discover.

"It touches my heart it really does because I feel like other kids need to learn from special needs kids and special needs kids need the opportunity to be around typical children," Addison said.

The three parks were chosen based on the demographics of families living in those areas that are affected by Autism or related disorders.

City officials say the equipment will be installed by April 2018.