For children with autism, occupational therapy can be the key to reducing sensory overload when doing everyday activities. However, therapy often doesn’t give children the chance to experience these stimuli while around their typically developing peers.
We Rock the Spectrum, a neighborhood gym and third place for children with autism and children who are typically developing to play and mingle, aims to change that.
The gym is run by Taylor Wiesner, who has done behavioral therapy for kids with autism for more than 10 years.
“I primarily did in-home therapy with kids, which I love because parents can be super-involved, and we are able to teach skills to kids with autism where they need it most,” Wiesner says. “However, they really struggled with social skills at home because they only had siblings, and you can only force a sibling to practice playing a game or whatever would be so often.”
Wiesner opened her first We Rock the Spectrum location in Preston Hollow in January 2020. Families that attended therapy at Wiesner’s office next door began playing at the gym, and neighborhood families followed suit. Now, We Rock the Spectrum has about 150 kids with a membership who attend multiple times a week, and a Plano location opened in August 2022.
“I have three typically developing kids, and I was looking for a way to get to have a place where my clients who have special needs could come and play with kids who are typically developing some place where it doesn’t matter if you have words or if you have autism or if you’re flapping or if you’re screaming or whatever it is that everyone can just play in a safe place,” Wiesner says.
The gym features a toddler area, swings that serve different occupational therapy needs, a zip line, a trampoline and other play items that help special-needs children with different sensory needs.
“All of the swings have a specific purpose,” Wiesner says. “They’re either working on balance, or they’re getting some sort of sensory input from them.”
When the open play area becomes too much, We Rock the Spectrum has a quiet room for kids to work on regulating their sensory overload.
“For kids who have autism, oftentimes the gym can get overwhelming. Any place can get overwhelming,” Wiesner says. “So this area is soundproof.”
The room also features a sequined wall for sensory stimulation, a blue-lit bubble feature for a calming effect and an egg chair that kids can sit inside and close for a dark and cozy moment to themselves.
We Rock the Spectrum also hosts birthday parties, field trips and summer camps for both special-needs and typically developing children.
“One thing that differentiates our summer camps is that any kid can come regardless of their ability,” Wiesner says. “We just have to know what needs there are, and we supplement by having volunteers come hang out with the kids who need extra one-on-one time.”
The play area also features a rock wall and an area that rotates seasonally. Currently, the area is set up like a pirate ship complete with life jackets for children to learn about water safety.
“That’s a concern with kids right now, especially those with special needs who don’t know how to swim,” Wiesner says. “A lot of them are attracted to water, so we are going to have safety stories printed out that parents can take home to teach their kids about water safety or what to do around water.”
Within the play area, there is a classroom where kids can play with magnets or a dry erase board, do crafts or camp activities, or have one-on-one time with their occupational therapist.
“The whole goal, even for myself, being a mom of three, is that it’s a great place that your kid can learn to be around kids who are different from them,” Wiesner says.
“[That] is what makes our open play concept and our camps quite different from a lot of other play spaces, because we’re always teaching kindness and compassion. They might not have words back to say to you, but you can ask them to go play and they might still join you.”
A day pass to the open play area is $12 per child. Monthly memberships are also available for $70 for one child with discounted rates for siblings. We Rock the Spectrum, 1941 Preston Road, Suite 1022, 214.954.7221