For parents of a child with special needs, everyday activities like a trip to the park or a museum can be heart-wrenching, overwhelming experiences.
For those whose children have autism, for example, it’s hard to know how their child will react in a public situation. Will she be overstimulated? Will she get out of control? Will she have what others would call a tantrum?
When you don’t know how your child will react to an experience, it’s hard. When you don’t know how others will react to your child, it can be even harder.
There are the stares and whispers. The trying to explain.
That unfortunate reality is what inspired three local women to open Sensational Fun, an indoor play place for kids with special needs.
“We wanted to create an environment where everyone understands what’s happening. There are staff who are trained to help and there’s no judgment,” said Kelly Stanton, a speech pathologist and the center’s director of communication. “We want it to be a place where parents feel comfortable and kids can run around and be kids.”
Stanton’s partners are Jennifer Kline, a special education teacher and the center’s executive director, and Cheryl Guggemos, an occupational therapist and the center’s program director.
The 2,000-square-foot center, located at 2881 Southwestern Blvd. in Orchard Park, opened Wednesday. There are three rooms: a multisensory play center, a fine-motor skills room and a calming room.
The multisensory play center features a ball pit, swings and a rock-climbing wall. The fine-motor room has puzzles, games, crafts, toys and a play kitchen. The calming room has a fish tank, black walls, soothing textures and soft lighting.
Rates are $9 per day or $45 for a month’s membership. Memberships for two-child families are $60, and three-child families are $75 per month.
Families can drop in any time during open play hours. Sensational Fun will also have special events and programming.
Though there are more than 76,000 children with special needs in Erie County alone, Sensational Fun is one of the only public commercial spaces to cater exclusively to those children. The non-profit company hopes to eventually open an additional location in the Northtowns.