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Learning through play

The playground project at the Center for Spectrum Services

Volunteers assemble the playground at the Kingston campus of the Center for Spectrum Services last fall.

When you first walk in the door at the Center for Spectrum Services, you are immediately transported into a world where children are pushed, challenged, and loved by the community of staff who run the building.

The Center for Spectrum Services (formerly known as The Children’s Annex), was founded in 1976 by Susan Buckler and Jamey Wolff. They began by teaching only two students in a church basement.

Now almost 40 years later, they have campuses in Kingston and Ellenville, and a student population of around 250 students coming from 10 different counties and over 40 districts. The staff at the centers are dedicated educators who all work together to provide education and therapies to children aged 5 to 12 who’ve been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Read more: 14 clues that your child may need an autism screening

Read more: 10 tips for playdates with kids of all abilities

In addition, they participate in the Early Intervention program (which services children birth to 3) and the district-based preschool program (which services children 3-5), provide diagnostic evaluations to people of all ages, coordinate regular and informative workshops for parents and providers in the community, and serve as consultants to districts and social skills groups. To say that they make a difference in our community would be a monumental understatement.

Social development is key

A major portion of the ASD diagnosis revolves around social interaction. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, children affected by ASD have difficulty:

• using communication for social purposes (sharing information and greeting).

• following the rules of conversation (different conversations based on location or partner).

• interpreting non-verbal communication or non-literal language.

• making, keeping, and maintaining relationships.

In order to help their students reach their full potential, the center is currently raising funds to fine-tune their playground at the Kingston campus, and add a new playground to their Ellenville campus.

Read more: Diagnosing autism early

Being able to have access to a playground helps teach and strengthen vital social and motor skills. Although there were existing playgrounds, they were wearing out and were built around an older form of building codes.

When I talked to David Juhren, the Development Coordinator for the Center for Spectrum Services, he stressed that the new playgrounds have been designed to promote more teamwork and cooperative play, utilizing structures such as see-saws that need multiple children to function.

These playgrounds will also give the physical and occupational therapists another natural setting to help their students learn gross and fine motor and sensory skills.

Melissa Moser, an employee of the Center for Spectrum Services and also a parent of a student, says her son Ollie was delighted about the new playground at the Kingston campus.

“He would excitedly race with his friend down the connected slides and he loves the teeter totter, which has helped his social skills,” she says.

Read more: Autism and the positive role of Early Intervention


Gaining motor skills

The students at the Center for Spectrum Services are benefitting not only from the social aspect of the playground, but also from the motor skills gained.

Alix Cutrone of Ulster Park says her son, Oliver, 5, is thrilled at the new additions to the Kingston campus.

“Oliver has low muscle tone and has had a lot of difficulty with walking and various activities due to his lack of core strength and all over tone,” she says. “I love the new playground and I'm sure Oliver is loving it, too! Since it was built, he has learned how to climb the rock wall, which is amazing for his core. He is also crazy about slides and swings and it's nice that he has new, more accessible ones to use now. Plus, the playground is very welcoming and aesthetically pleasing.”


Seeking donations

So, how can we, as a community, help support this local organization?

The current budget for the Playground Project is currently $140,000, and they have not yet reached their goal.

“We are seeking donations [of any amount] all the way up to the build itself, scheduled for early April. Any funding we raise above our goal will be used to support the programs and services for our autistic students,” says Juhren.

He also gave some additional ideas for community members, both individuals and businesses, to help including volunteering individually or in a group, supplying material donations from local companies, supplying food and beverage donations for our volunteers the day of the build, and helping to get the word out.

Check out to volunteer and get more information on the project.

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