As part of its commitment to youth development and being inclusive of all individuals, the YMCA of the Greater Houston Area recently opened the Cleary Family Playground – one of the largest adaptive playgrounds for children (at nearly 7,000 square feet) with physical and mental special needs. It is a one-of-a-kind, all-inclusive, barrier-free playground. Children who rely on wheelchairs and walkers will be fully accommodated on this playground that features ramps and extra-wide walkways, oversize swings and so much more. There are even tactile components to stimulate the minds of children with autism. Community donations, including primary donors Joe and Cathy Cleary, made the construction of the playground possible.
The playground is part of the Adaptive Sports Complex at Langham Creek Family YMCA in northwest Houston. No other adaptive playground-field combo exists in the region.
Like many children with autism, Quint Rule, 11, has struggled to express himself socially and break out of his shell. The complex is a safe haven for children such as Quint, who need sensory and social opportunities.
"Those interactions are a big thing for these kids. It's hard for them," said Jennifer Rule, his mother. "Interactions, speech, being physical - everyday things we take for granted, he struggles with," Rule said. "It's nice for him to have something like the field and playground."
Recently, Quint played in the complex's second competitive baseball game. He participates in the Miracle League, a national nonprofit organization that operates sports groups for children with disabilities ages 4-19. The Langham Creek Y has hosted Miracle League activities for sports such as baseball, flag football and basketball for four years.
To members on the Y's board, building the playground seemed necessary after constructing the baseball field, which doubles as grounds for some of the other adaptive sports the Y hosts. Before, safety hazards on a grass field hindered play for children with special needs.
"There is a lot more attention being brought to this population. We are seeing more and more inclusion. It's all about awareness for these individuals," Matt Thompson, the Langham Creek Family YMCA’s district executive director said. "The kiddos that play out here … they are just like everyone else. They want to have fun. They smile and go through the same struggles everyone else does. They just process things a bit differently."
For more information on the Adaptive Sports Complex or the Miracle League, click here.