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First-of-its-kind facility offers people with autism, families a comfortable place to play

Mar 16, 2017

The Next Idea

“Inclusion. Acceptance. Support.”

That’s the mission of Play-Place for Autistic Children.

It’s a 25,000 square foot facility in Sterling Heights in Macomb County, and it's the first of its kind in this country.

Play-Place is a nonprofit that gives kids who are on the autism spectrum a safe, fun, comfortable place to hang out and play with others.

For parents and caregivers, it’s a place to find “me-too” conversations with someone who is also going through the challenges presented by autism.

Founder Shell Jones joined us today.

Jones told us the idea for Play-Place rose from her personal experience as the mother of a child with autism.

“I just kind of wanted to find a place that, you know, we could go out as a family and be accepted and not be looked upon with just insensitive behaviors because he had autism,” she said. “Play-Place is ... a community that embraces families like mine.”

"I wanted it to be disguised by play, but I wanted it to be much more than that."

Play-Place houses a carousel, a LEGO castle, a laser chalk room, art studio, computer cafe and more, all designed to give people with autism an opportunity to take part in activities they might miss out on elsewhere.

“I wanted it to be disguised by play, but I wanted it to be much more than that,” she said. “From the outside in it looks like normal play, but … every element about the center has some type of therapeutic value to it.”

Much of what Play-Place has to offer is aimed specifically at children with autism, but Jones told us she wants the center to do just as much for those children’s families as it does for the children with autism.

“We use our siblings as behavior models, if you will, because they’re actually indirectly affected as well. … There have been a lot of times where we couldn’t go somewhere because it wasn’t a welcoming environment for [my son,]” she said.

“You don’t want it to turn into a thing where the neurotypical sibling is hampered by, oh, you know, ‘he gets all the attention and we never get to do anything,’ so this is a place where the entire family can come.”

In our conversation below, Jones shares more about how Play-Place came together, the sort of programs and resources they offer, and how other organizations might follow their lead to provide comfortable and welcoming social spaces for children with autism and their families.

 

This segment originally aired on Nov. 28, 2016.

The Next Idea is Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.

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