'Pump It Up' accommodates autistic kids

June 26, 2011 (CHICAGO)

More than 150 Pump It Up playgrounds across the country are giving children with autism sensory jump time. It's an opportunity for them to be in a safe environment while having a lot of fun.

At Chicago's Lincoln Park Pump It Up, 5-year-old Ivan is making his way around the inflatable playground. Mom Martha Fregoso said her son was diagnosed with autism just after his second birthday.

"A couple of things that we've noticed was just his development, he wasn't speaking very well for his age. He had a lot of sensory issues so we had a lot of issues with adjusting with the environment sounds," Fregoso said.

This is challenging for young kids like Ivan, to do simple things like play with peers.

"He's ultra sensitive to sounds, so if the radio is too loud, he can't tolerate it. He says it hurts. Fire alarms, fire trucks, any sudden, spontaneous sounds that he's not anticipating really affect him," Fregoso said.

The Sensory Jump Time program has games and activities catered to the specific needs of children with autism. It's a partnership between Pump It Up and Autism Speaks.

Chicago manager Nicholas Cupani explained some of the modifications that are provided.

"We don't have our music playing, our special effect lighting and interaction with the kids is a little bit different. Normally we use loud voices to help direct them, help them be safe, but with them we cater to them a little bit differently, speaking to them in quieter voices and not being necessarily playing with them, and mostly supervising them to make sure that they are safe," Cupani said.

"Autism Speaks worked with Pump It Up to develop this reach out program," said Liz Klug, the executive director for Autism Speaks' Chicagoland chapter.

All of their staffers have been trained to work with this population.

"Pump It Up can modify just simple games like hot potato, freeze dance and duck, duck goose so that kids on the spectrum can be involved in the activities removing competitive factor. Also simple things like reducing the wait time for kids to wait in line and just paying attention to kids' attention spans, you know their attention is sort of waning they can switch gears and move on to another activity," Cupani said.

This is also a perfect environment for children with autism to improve social skills.

"The Sensory Jump Time program can help families expand on other therapies that are being incorporated at home, so things like expanding motor skills, and you know, expanding interaction with people and attention on activities," Klug said. "Autism can be an isolating disorder and things like birthday parties can be really tough, you know, especially when the child having the birthday is on the spectrum, and it's great that Pump It Up can provide one more option for families to get out of the house and try new things."

And that's exactly is what Ivan's mom Martha Fregoso has planned for him.

"You know he's the guest of honor, so this is probably one of the first years we have considered having a party and this will probably be the place," Fregoso said.

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