The term ‘children with special needs’ covers a wide range of conditions, disabilities, or difficulties. It ranges from physical challenges to emotional, behavioral, or learning difficulties.
Children with special needs must have additional support and accommodations while they are at school and at play. Because a special needs child could be anywhere from blind to autistic, their requirements when it comes to a playground differ.
David Hill from aussiwritings.com has written extensively about the subject. He says that there are some important factors allow special needs children to get the maximum benefit and enjoyment of a playground.
Safety is important on any playground, but more so in a place where special needs children will be playing. Before allowing any child onto playground equipment, parents should do a quick safety inspection.
Check that surfaces are even and won’t cause major injury should your child fall. In a lot of instances, climbing areas have sand under them to ensure a soft landing. Check that the sand is loosely packed and covers all the appropriate areas. Look for sharp objects in the sand and remove them.
Playground equipment should be maintained on a regular basis. There should be no missing parts.
Plastic playground equipment shouldn’t be brittle from sun exposure. Wooden equipment should not be splintering. Metal equipment should not be rusting.
If you have a child with special needs, you need to make sure that the playground equipment is accessible. Inclusivity is vital in playground design. Playground equipment should contain ramps and guard rails for children with special needs. Children who need assistance to reach the top and cannot climb a ladder-like structure should not be excluded from playing on the playground.
Another important accessibility issue is pathways that are paved to allow for children in wheelchairs to get onto the playground. These pathways should be maintained on a regular basis to make sure they are even.
It’s important to have a fence around a playground area so that children cannot wander off. There should be a designated entrance/exit. This gives parents peace of mind and provides a safer experience for children.
Discussing the rules
Many children who go to the playground are still at the developmental stage where they play side-by-side with others, not with others. However, that does not mean that parents shouldn’t discuss rules for being on the playground with their children.
Children should understand from the first time they visit the playground that horseplay and roughhousing are unsafe and may hurt them or others. They also need to learn the importance of taking turns.
Children with special needs may be a little slower on the playground. They need to be taught that it’s okay and that they’ll still get to play. Other children should be taught to understand that not everyone is the same and respect for others is important.
Parents on the playground
Playground equipment is not designed for parents and other adults. However, it must accommodate them in the event of an emergency. This is vital for a child with special needs.
For example, an autistic child might climb to the top of the jungle gym and freeze when it’s time to slide. The child’s mother/father/caregiver must be able to get up there to assist her. An asthmatic child may have a life-threatening episode while on the playground equipment.
Parents need to be vigilant. It’s important to keep an eye on your child. You need to make sure that your child is safe and is treating others with courtesy. Many moments on the playground are ‘teachable moments.’ Take advantage of them.
Get out there
Parents might think the playground is not a good place for children with special needs. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Children need to socialize on the playground and interact with each other. Give your child the opportunity to play on the playground to the best level at which they can. You are doing the child far more good than harm.
The opportunity to be outside soaking up the sun and enjoying themselves gives children immeasurable pleasure. Children with special needs are no exception. Encourage them to play and actively enjoy themselves. But remember that you have an additional responsibility when it comes to supervising them and ensuring their safety.
Children with special needs should be able to use playground equipment within the limits of their abilities. Frequent trips to the playground are an essential part of their life experience and integration into society. As parents, you should be able to recognize when your child with special needs need your love and support.