How My Friend’s Safe Space For Children Inspired A Community

When my son was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, my world wasn’t destroyed, but it did shrink. Instead of focusing on my family, friends, and the world around me, he suddenly became the center of my universe, and anything that wasn’t essential melted away.

The extra challenges of parenting a child with special needs sometimes take their toll on me, and I feel disappointed when I don’t have the time to help my friends or be active in the community like I wish I could. That’s why I’m so inspired by my friend, Alysia. Like me, Alysia has children with autism, but she still steps up to help others.

There aren’t a lot of resources out there for kids with special needs. If you’re lucky, there’s a patchwork of events through community organizations, but it’s rarely enough. Many of our kids are out of place at school, on the playground, and at the store. They like to do things that draw attention, such as spin in circles or flap their arms. You never know when running the smallest errand can lead to an incident that brings stares and judgment.

One day, after visiting a sensory gym with her son, Alysia realized she had found a good outlet for him. She explained, “My five-year-old kid with deficits in social skills and pragmatic language made new friends. He’s comfortable, happy, and safe. He’s around people who are letting him be.” That sparked the beginning of her personal mission: to open a sensory gym in her own community. She imagined a place where kids could play and families could relax and feel accepted.

With her co-founder and friend Tina, Alysia formed a business plan and set up SenseAbility Gym in Hopedale, Massachusetts. They raised money, reached out to everyone they could, and finally made their dream a reality. SenseAbility Gym has now been open for two years and has served over 450 families. Many of us saw the need, but Alysia stepped up and gave her own time and effort to fill that need.

Alysia is a kind and supportive friend, but she’s also someone who’s happy to stay quietly on the sidelines. Even so, she’s done more to foster positive change than anyone I know. I’ve been proud to watch SenseAbility Gym receive grants and awards, but what really matters is how much she cares and how hard she works to make life a little better for families who really need it.

My friend Kristin nicely sums up Alysia’s efforts: “Alysia created a perfect space where everyone is welcome and nobody is judged. I’m incredibly thankful that Alysia cared about our community enough to give this to us.” Alysia’s efforts continue to inspire me, and I’m so proud that she’s my friend.

Image source: Flickr