Some of the most precious and lasting childhood memories are created on the playground, but this place of joy and laughter can be a cause of concern for parents of children with special needs. How do you give these kids the extra protection that they need to stay safe on playgrounds while still allowing them to have fun? Follow these S.A.F.E. guidelines:
Supervision is key.
Adults should always be close by to watch a child with special needs on a playground. If possible, try to have one or two adults present as well as a playmate that can stay right by your child’s side. Try reaching out to the local YMCA, Boys and Girls Club or other community group to see if they have any buddy programs for children with special needs.
Always play on developmentally appropriate equipment.
Every piece of playground equipment is designed for children of different age ranges. When raising a child with special needs, it’s important to allow them to only play on developmentally appropriate playground equipment. Remember, you know your child better than anyone, so don’t let others pressure you to allow your child to use a piece of equipment you don’t feel is appropriate. To determine what equipment to use, look for issues your child could run into such as steps that are too far apart, high platforms without railing, or challenging monkey bars.
Fall injuries can be preventable.
Over 70% of playground injuries are caused by falls, so this is a major concern for any child, but especially children with special needs. Although it can be difficult to prevent the actual fall from occurring, there are ways to keep kids safe even if they do stumble. Try to avoid taking children with special needs to playgrounds that only have concrete, asphalt, blacktop, or packed dirt surfaces. These hard surfaces make for a rough landing after a fall, so to be safe, choose playgrounds with softer surfaces such as wood chips, mulch or sand.
Equipment should be safe.
Any equipment that a child with special needs plays on should not only be developmentally appropriate, but also safe. Are there exposed bolts or screws that jut out and could snag clothes or cause injury? Be sure to skim the perimeter of the equipment to check for any sharp edges that a child could run into or push up against. Test the equipment for stability by pulling hard or shaking it to see how it holds up under pressure. Depending on where you live, it may be necessary to check the surface temperature of playground equipment on hot, sunny days. If everything checks out, then spend time teaching your child with special needs exactly how to use the equipment the right way before you let him or her play freely.
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Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that playgrounds be accessible, there are some that do not meet these standards. If you would like a local playground changed to meet ADA requirements, feel free to your city council or reach out to the private owners of the playground with your concerns.