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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Playtime hasn’t always been this fun for 7-year-old Julian Carty, whose sensory processing disorder often prevents him from getting off the ground.
“I really wanted to try [the zip line], but my body wouldn’t really let me do it so I tried and tried and practiced and practiced and it finally worked and I went on it and faced my fear and I got it,” he said.
These kinds of victories are part of the goal of the newly opened We Rock the Spectrum gym in Audubon, New Jersey, which aims to be a sensory-safe space, especially for children with autism and special needs.
“There’s just nothing like it so close to home. We’ve been here so often in the short time it’s been open, we’ve probably been here half a dozen times,” said Charis Lewis, who lives nearby and often brings her daughter and nephew.
The doors opened less than two weeks ago, says Julian’s mom, Pip Carty, who launched this location after visiting another franchise.
Before having kids, she dedicated her career to children with special needs; then, the cause turned personal.
“[Julian] had a hard time going up and down steps, his depth perception was a little off, he was also sensitive to certain noises,” said Carty.
Carty says high ceilings and unexpected noises at other play spaces may not bother her daughter, Lily, but they overwhelm her son.
Here, she says the environment is welcoming for all kids.
“The nice thing is that when kids come in here, it’s just fun – it’s just fun equipment,” she said.
Each piece of equipment can be found at an occupational therapist’s office and is specifically designed with these children in mind.
This location also employs a dedicated speech pathologist.
“I wanted to create a community hub and a one-stop shop for families who have children with special needs,” Carty said. “When my son had occupational therapy, my daughter would just crawl around the lobby two days a week. Here, families can just let the siblings play while the child is in therapy and after, it’s a reward that the kids can come and play on the gym floor.”
For Julian, it’s a safe haven, a place where he can be unapologetically himself.
“You don’t have to say sorry because it’s this place where they can get their energy out and have fun and it doesn’t matter if you’re different from a different person, because everyone’s the same in this place,” he said.
The gym is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
“Open play” for infants to age 13 is $12 and is $10 for siblings.