Depending on where you live, your local playground might feature some adapted equipment, most likely a swing. Our playground across the street was recently updated to be slightly more accessible; the sand that was throughout the whole playground was converted to a rubberized ground that’s easier to walk on, or push a stroller or wheelchair through. But, really the only fun thing that’s been adapted is one swing that sits at the end of the group of swings.
It’s a larger seat-like swing that can accommodate a harness. I was pumped to have one so close for when Ella gets too big for the baby swings.
Buds used to take swimming lessons at a local elementary school which had been built purposefully for those with special needs, primarily physical needs. The playground was always a huge hit with the kids pre and post swim lesson, and like the rest of the school, is adapted. They not only have the big seat swings like our playground, but they also have swings that a wheelchair can drive right onto and park, allowing the user to swing. It’s a completely beautiful concept, especially when you think about how totally freeing it is to swing, lifting yourself to new heights.
Our swim lessons and playground tend to be occupied by typically developed kids who crawl all over the adapted equipment like their own personal jungle gym, and their parents let them. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have access to the equipment, but where’s the conversation? Where’s the explanation? Where’s the understanding that this equipment is not yours, that you can only use it because someone else doesn’t need it? In a world built for able-bodied individuals, shouldn’t those who need to use the adapted playground get to do so?
Why are parents so scared to talk about special needs? Braeden has asked me why people are in wheelchairs. I didn’t shush him loudly and march him away. Instead, I explained and he listened. Sometimes he asks about Ella and I tell him the truth, I don’t know. I don’t know if she’ll ever even need that special swing, but the point is that there are kids who do need it. Kids who can’t go on the slide or climb the ladder or sit on the teeter-totter, and those kids need to play, too. Because, play is an essential part of childhood, of learning, of growing, of brain development, and that doesn’t stop when you have a different ability.
So, yes, use that adapted swing, but let’s talk about why it’s there and who it really belongs to. And let’s talk about wheelchairs and walkers and AFOs, and differences, because if we don’t teach our kids these things now, when will they learn? How will they develop compassion and understanding? Let’s ask questions and learn together, and remember that it’s always OK to tell your kids when you don’t know something, especially when you can find out the answer together. And next time your kid is on the swings, hop on one too and feel your heart soar and your soul smile, and then you’ll remember why those adapted swings are there.