Metro-East Living

This indoor playground aims to help kids on the autism spectrum

New kids gym, designed for children with special needs, is open to all

We Rock the Spectrum Kid's Gym, which recently opened in Edwardsville, was made with children on the autism spectrum in mind, it doesn’t turn anyone away. Owner Jennifer Range, a former Edwardsville High School special education teacher, was inspi
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We Rock the Spectrum Kid's Gym, which recently opened in Edwardsville, was made with children on the autism spectrum in mind, it doesn’t turn anyone away. Owner Jennifer Range, a former Edwardsville High School special education teacher, was inspi

Inspired by her 23-year-old son who has autism, Jennifer Range recently opened We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym in Edwardsville, and word — and smiles — are spreading.

“There are not a lot of services available to adults with special needs, so we were looking for a business that we could have that I could run the business, and (my son) Scott could come to work with me so that we could take care of him,” said Range, who lives in Highland with her husband Mike.

After hearing about the indoor playground franchise on Facebook, Range, 49, said she was intrigued and had to see one for herself.

“We went to visit the one in Fenton, Missouri, and I just knew we needed to bring it to this side of the river,” Range said.

From swings to trampolines, the space features a climbing wall mural of the St. Louis Arch and a zip line across the room, as well as crafts, books, puzzles and toys.

While the gym is made with children on the autism spectrum in mind, it doesn’t turn anyone away. “It’s for all kids ... when we say fully inclusive, we mean all kids,” Range said.

The former Edwardsville High School special education teacher said popular activities in the gym are swinging and jumping.

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Matthew Torre, 25, of Highland, smiles at the camera while swinging at We Rock the Spectrum Edwardsville. Caitlin Lally

“It’s just a way to help them feel centered, and they get focused, and all of a sudden you see them doing puzzles or they’re looking at a book, and they’re super calm,” Range said.

Dr. Susanne James, a professor in the department of teaching and learning at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, teaches courses on special education, including the needs of those with autism.

“It’s a neurological disorder that really impacts students in three areas: their sensory (needs), their ability to act appropriately socially and their ability to communicate,” James said.

A part of that sensory need relates to motion. Range said the gym provides a safe, familiar place for people to practice gross motor skills and fine motor skills.

“When they walk in, it looks very similar to most occupational therapy rooms that they’re going to see, so they feel comfortable in that they’ve seen this equipment before,” Range said.

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Swings, trampolines and a variety of toys fill the gym space of We Rock the Spectrum Edwardsville. “The moms love it because it’s indoors, it’s all right here and and we all know that (August) in Illinois is not fun, so out of the sweltering heat you can have fun in the air conditioning,” Owner Jennifer Range said. Caitlin Lally

A wide range of individuals go to the gym, Range said, from those with low-functioning to high-functioning autism, in addition to those not on the spectrum at all. However, all of them reap the benefits of playing in the space.

“I have so many stories already of typical children helping those kids who are struggling moving around the gym or trying to get on the zip line or wanting to play catch with the kids,” Range said.

Scott Range and his high school friend Matthew Torre, 25, of Highland, are at the gym regularly and volunteer their time to help Range run the business.

“My favorite thing to do is play with the children,” Torre said.

James, who has visited the gym and plans to help Range promote the new space said, “When people try to do things for individuals with autism without really understanding their needs, sometimes it falls short, so it’s very encouraging to me that they’re going with the mindset of: ‘Let’s think of the kids and what their needs are specifically first, instead of trying to create a wide program that doesn’t necessarily fit their needs.’”

Although We Rock the Spectrum Edwardsville has only been open since the end of June, it has been quick to garner the support of the local community. Range said the gym hosts events such as birthday parties, support groups for parents, weekly yoga and Kindermusik sessions, sibling events and more.

“Siblings are definitely not a forgotten group by us, and we want to make sure they’re supported also,” Range said. “This is an area where if you have three or four kids and maybe one of them has special needs, everybody can come play in this gym.”

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Caitlin Lally

From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 19, the gym will welcome Poppy the Troll, from the movie “Trolls,” for a play date. Tickets, which cost $25, must be purchased in advance, and Range said kids will have the opportunity to play with Poppy in the gym, get photos taken, have snacks and do a craft.

The gym also looks forward to hosting Zumbini sessions in the near future, which is Zumba for children accompanied by a parent.

When the gym does not have special events going on, it is available for open play for $12 for the first child and $10 per sibling. Frequent-use passes are also available.

We Rock the Spectrum also has an app on the Google Play and Apple stores where individuals can register for classes and events.

However, the business also keeps in mind those who may not be able to attend a gym.

“We have My Brother Rocks the Spectrum, which is our 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation that helps raise money for children who maybe couldn’t access the gym,” Range said. “So they hand out scholarships once a year for camps and for memberships — and that goes to all over the country.”

Those looking to get involved with the gym or the foundation can find more information at werockthespectrumedwardsville.com.

“I just think that it’s a gym for all kids to enjoy; it’s just a happy place,” Range said.

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