Arvada family opens gym for children with special needs - The Denver Post
Posted: Feb 16th, 2017
Arvada family opens gym for children with special needs – The Denver Post
Abe and Amy Woszczynski first began looking into sensory rooms a little more than a year ago when their 3-year-old son, Asher, was diagnosed with autism. The Arvada couple immediately buried themselves in research on the condition.
“I’m the type of mom who takes the bull by the horns. I tried to educate myself as much as I could about autism, and the buzzword in the community is sensory diet,” Amy said.
A sensory diet, developed by longtime occupational therapist Patricia Wilbarger from California, is a specialized activity plan that aims to provide the sensory input a person needs to stay focused and organized throughout the day. Carefully designed sensory diets are often used with people who have autism or other sensory processing disorders.
Thinking it would be good for Asher to have a sensory room with equipment to help his senses develop, Abe and Amy started researching how to build one in their basement. But what started out as a home project for the Woszczynski family quickly became a source of refuge for the entire community.
In their research, Abe and Amy came across a franchise of kid’s gyms called We Rock the Spectrum. While the doors are open to all children, these gyms are filled with specialized sensory equipment — swings, crash mats, ziplines and trampolines — and the promise of tolerance for children with special needs.
It began in 2010 in Tarzana, Calif., with Dina Kimmel, the mother of a child with autism.
“‘I’m sorry.’ I felt myself saying this in every children’s gym, play area and restaurant where I took my son, Gabriel,” Kimmel said in a letter to the public on the We Rock the Spectrum website. “For my child with autism, the overstimulation was always too much for him. Eventually, he would have a meltdown. We would be asked to leave, usually both in tears, and I would feel hopeless.”
Kimmel decided to open a children’s gym where her son could feel free to be himself.
“Within weeks, children with special needs and neurotypical children alike found safety and fulfillment within these four walls,” Kimmel said. By 2013 the gym became a franchise, and by 2016 We Rock the Spectrum gyms could be found in 22 states with 60 locations.
The Woszczynskis were inspired.
“We have wanted to be business owners for a long time,” Amy said. “We looked at a few businesses but didn’t find anything that was worth taking that risk until we came across We Rock the Spectrum.”
In May 2016 Abe and Amy launched into creating Colorado’s first We Rock the Spectrum gym, and when they officially opened the doors on Jan. 21, the turnout was better than they had imagined.
“It was phenomenal,” Amy said. “We have such great word of mouth going on right now.”
Laurie Arnold, of Wheat Ridge, and her daughter Julia attended the grand opening and did not leave disappointed.
“She was having so much fun laughing and running around. She had a great time,” Laurie said. “I was really happy when we left.”
Julia, 9, was born with a rare chromosome abnormality that renders her nonverbal and legally blind. It has not always been easy for Julia to play with other children, Laurie said.
“A lot of other places we go it’s not always very welcoming, and the other kids are standoffish,” she said. “It’s nice being in a place that is meant for kids like Jules. Even families that bring in typical kids to play, it seems like they are coming in with a different level of awareness that there will be kids like Jules in there. It means a lot to me that the kids here are sweet to her.”
Olenka Dubchak, of Arvada, brought her children to the gym on opening day too.
“I had to force my kids to leave. They absolutely loved it,” she said. Dubchak wanted to check out the gym because it’s so close to their home. But she thinks this gym will provide her children with more opportunities than just fun and exercise.
“My kids are not autistic,” she said. “And I very much appreciate that it is a gym for all abilities because I want my kids to interact with diverse kids and people, and learn tolerance at an early age. I was born and grew up in Ukraine where people with disabilities are excluded from society.”
Dubchak purchased a membership right away. “I will do everything in my power to support this gym and places like it,” she said.
The Woszczynskis have a lot planned for the future of the gym including introducing special needs massage and yoga classes, camps, fundraisers and possibly partnering with the Denver-based organization T.A.C.T(Teaching Autistic Children Trades).
“We can actually feel passionate about working hard every day to make a great resource for the community,” Abe said.
Painted on one of the walls inside the gym are the words, “Finally a place where you never have to say ‘I’m sorry.’”
“I can’t emphasize enough what it means to families like us — that there is a place meant for Julia,” Laurie said. “A place where she belongs.”