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10 Steps to an Autism-Friendly Playground

According to a 2019 study from the Public Health Agency of Canada, approximately 1 in 50 children aged 1-17 have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This figure has been steadily increasing over the years, leading to an estimated 145,000 children living in Canada with ASD.

This course delves into ASD and its effects on families visiting playgrounds. Additionally, it provides an understanding of what autism is and its impact on individuals who are living with it. Finally, you’ll also learn 10 strategies you can use to make your playground more inclusive, especially for those with autism.

By the end of this course, you’ll be able to:

Understand autism and its implications for families visiting playgrounds.
Describe how different types of playground equipment engages sensory systems.
Explain how the layout of a playground influences a child’s interaction with it.
Implement a 10-step checklist that ensures your playground is designed to assist a child with autism.

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About this course

What will I learn?

What autism spectrum disorder (ASD) looks like varies from child to child. Some children may have more overt physical difficulties, while others may have social or emotional challenges that are more hidden. When designing a playground that’s truly inclusive, it’s important to consider children with autism and how they see the world around them.

In this course, Mara Kaplan of Let Kids Play will define ASD and explain its impacts on child development. In addition, she’ll outline 10 key strategies that will make your playground welcoming for those on the autism spectrum.

  1. Create an Organized Layout: Ensure that the playground is easy to navigate by placing equipment in a logical arrangement.
  2. Fence Your Playground: Keep kids safe and secure by installing a fence around the perimeter of your playground.
  3. Engage the Senses: Include opportunities on the playground for kids to use their tactile, auditory, and visual senses.
  4. Provide Balancing Activities: Incorporate balancing activities that accommodate multiple skill levels and positions.
  5. Provide Quiet Spaces: Include quiet spaces on the playground so that children may take a break from physical play.
  6. Use Unitary Surfacing: Smooth, flat walking surfaces allows children with motor impairments to move freely.
  7. Provide Social Interaction: Include opportunities for cooperative play so that children with autism may make friends easily.
  8. Introduce Your Playground: Make a website for your playground and include design considerations for children with autism.
  9. Highlight the Natural Environment: Nature-themed equipment can have a calming effect for children with autism.
  10. Accommodate Various Skillsets: Place activities of different skill levels close together to encourage social interaction.

Who is my instructor?

Mara Kaplan is the Founder of Let Kids Play, a consulting firm that partners with manufacturers, communities, and parents to develop projects and strategies that provide optimal play opportunities for children.

Recognized nationally as an expert in designing play spaces, Mara is a committed advocate for inclusive play. As an educator and parent to a child with a disability, she holds a 25-year track record in designing, building, and managing both indoor and outdoor play environments. Her expertise also extends to play spaces and toys for children with and without disabilities.

In 1995, Mara, and five other parents raising children with disabilities, identified the significance of play in their children’s learning. They were determined to build a space where children of varying abilities could play together, leading to the founding of the Center for Creative Play. Mara served as its Executive Director for seven years before embarking on her journey with Let Kids Play.

Mara’s educational background includes a degree in elementary education and a minor in gifted education from Indiana University (Bloomington, IN). She later acquired her MBA, specializing in non-profit management, from Boston University.

Mara’s endeavors have earned her the Shore-Whitehill award for her efforts in enhancing the lives of people with special needs. Her work has been showcased in publications such as, the Wall Street Journal, Be the Change, and the Social Enterprise Reporter.

Who is this course for?

The great thing about our courses is that they’re designed for all levels of experience. Whether you’re a parent on a PAC planning your first playground, or a landscape architect with decades of experience, there’s always something new to learn. Plus, our courses offer a quick way to stay up to date with the most recent trends in playground design.

Our courses take into account multiple groups and audiences, all of whom have different needs for their playground. A few groups that will benefit from taking our courses include:

  • Parents: Parent volunteers will learn the most important aspects to consider when planning their playground project.
  • Teachers: Teachers will learn about the educational benefits of play and how to incorporate them on the playground.
  • Landscape Architects: Architects will learn innovative design ideas that they may use in their upcoming projects.
  • Parks & Recreation: Parks professionals will learn about recent advances in safety, inclusion, and sustainability.
  • Property Managers: Property managers will learn how playgrounds can attract families to live in their neighbourhood.
Mara Kaplan, course instructor for "10 Steps to an Autism-Friendly Playground."

Mara Kaplan

Founder, Let Kids Play

Mara Kaplan is a nationally recognized expert in inclusive play, with 25 years of experience designing outdoor environments. She is the driving force behind Let Kids Play, a consulting firm that works with parents and communities to create accessible play spaces.

More Courses?

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