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New indoor playground opens for children with sensory issues

Monitor staff
Published: 9/27/2021 5:01:20 PM

Concord-based educator April Campbell is re-imagining what a children’s play space could look like, with her new business that caters specifically to children with sensory processing issues.

Sensory Seekers is a play gym specifically designed for children of all ages with sensory issues, including those with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD or who have experienced trauma. The business had its grand opening Saturday, in its location at 85 Manchester Street.

“My goal was to create a solace that really emphasized all the different sensory domains and developmental domains for children,” Campbell said. “We feel like we might have it.”

Campbell has been an early childhood educator in New Hampshire for over 20 years, and has worked with many children who experience sensory processing issues. She’s also a longtime foster parent, and the mother of a six-year-old boy with autism. She says the idea for her business came from knowing that standard recreational spaces don’t work for all kids.

“Most of these children can’t go to a typical play center, they’re very overwhelming, they’re very loud, with lots of children running around,” Campbell said. “Many parents don’t feel comfortable allowing their children to go to those places because they might have a sensory overload.”

At Sensory Seekers, the play area is a large open room equipped with mats, small tunnels, a crash pit, a rope tunnel and swings that hang from the ceiling. Campbell designed the space herself, and chose play equipment that she says will help kids work on their social, sensory and motor skills in a way that’s fun and calming.

“I have found over the years that swings and slides and tactile play has really helped a lot of these children become comfortable, but start to explore new things,” Campbell said.

One corner of the room is dedicated to “messy play,” with water, sand, play dough and a paint wall. Campbell says for kids who don’t like getting dirty or touching certain textures, the messy play area allows them to explore the sensations at their own pace. At this play place, moving back and forth between activities is both expected and encouraged.

To address sensory overload, there is a small room separate from main gym that is dimly lit with colored lights, a bubble toy, a tent and some soft objects where kids can take breaks when they’re feeling overwhelmed.

“Being a parent with a special needs child, I know we’ve felt judged at times where our kid has had a meltdown,” Campbell said. “This is a place where it’s okay. Kids have meltdowns, we understand.”

 In New Hampshire, about 3,175 children ages 3 to 20 have autism, according to the Department of Education’s 2020 disability census. Sensory play gyms exist throughout the United States, and occupational therapy offices often have similar spaces for working with clients, but Campbell says there aren’t many business like hers in the northeast.

“This is a really unique design for New England that we hope catches on and provides more and more services for all our children who just need a bit extra,” Campbell said.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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