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Autism Plays: Salmon Bay School's New Playground Design

salmon-bay-playgroundBy Maria Bellos Fisher

We’re excited to hear about a new playground designed to include children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in play. Salmon Bay School, an alternative K-8 facility in Ballard, is building a playground with features designed specifically for ASD children.

We caught up with Robin Lofstrom, initiator and co-chair of the playground renovation committee, to hear the scoop. “I was inspired by my son, Henry, who has Asperger’s Syndrome and the other kids at the school. The other kids are not so different than children with ASD. They need spaces to rest and recharge too,” she says.

Three years ago, aging and dangerous equipment on the school’s playground was dismantled, leaving an area of asphalt surrounded by concrete. The parent board mulled over solutions, but didn’t come up with anything solid. Lofstrom proposed an ASD-friendly playground but her idea was rejected, because it wouldn’t serve all of the students. She regrouped with the playground committee and thought about the school’s values — one of which is inclusion. When she pitched the playground idea as a place that would serve all of the kids and facilitate inclusion to boot, the school changed its tune.

The design includes a star-shaped circuit of activities, supporting children with ASD by giving them concrete tasks to complete. It is designed to be spacious, as suggested by Lofstrom, who had observed that her son didn’t like bright, exposed, dense or overly busy playground equipment. It also includes glass and colored aggregate features, to substitute for ASD kids’ favorites, water and sand.  So far, King County, the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, Wyncote Foundation and parents have donated funds to support the project.

“Whether they’ve received the diagnosis or not, a lot of children qualify as ASD,” Lofstrom says. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 88 children qualifies as having an ASD.

We look forward to the grand opening of the playground in the fall.

Maria Bellos Fisher is a regular contributor to ParentMap, a blogger and a mom. Her blog, Hereditary Insanity: Surviving family by the grace of madness, is at

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