Creating a Play Space that Embraces Neurodiversity
All children are different in their behaviour, bodies, and of course, their brains. The variations that can occur between children’s brains and behavioural traits can be described with the term neurodiversity. Despite being quite a well-known word these days, the term wasn’t developed until the late 1990s when Judy Singer – a sociologist who has autism – started using it to encapsulate the different variations that can occur in the brain and some developmental disorders.
In our centres, we welcome children who are neurodiverse or who have additional needs. Some of the things we do in our playrooms to support and celebrate neurodiverse children include tailoring the environment to be a safe and secure space for all little learners, with inclusive games and relaxed environments. Our play spaces support a range of children ensuring they are inclusive and individualised to support each of our little learners.
Creating a play space that embraces neurodiversity can assist in a child’s ability to learn and encourages their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. A play space that supports neurodiversity puts children on a positive educational path for life and builds social and emotional relationships.
Let’s look at how our centres create play spaces that embrace neurodiversity, and how you might be able to recreate these at home.
Recreational play spaces are crucial for all little learners and must be inclusive, safe and secure. Children with neurological variations may need a different domain to feel safe and secure. At Genius we provide areas that have minimal noise, dimmed lights, minimal distractions, and no strong smells – while ensuring our rooms have good ventilation. All of our families are encouraged to bring their own comfort items to help their children feel safe and secure while at our centres – whether they have special needs or not. In addition, we provide fidget toys, sunglasses, or earmuffs to assist children who might need these to feel more comfortable. Our environments can provide relaxing sensory experiences with areas to sit, sleep, move around, and play. They also offer a variety of educational and play-based activities that children can enjoy, no matter what their learning style is.
We fill our rooms with activities that a variety of children love. In terms of neurodiverse individuals, fidget toys can be great for highly sensory children who may be impulsive with their physical actions – keeping their hands and minds busy. The calming effect of fidget toys is terrific, and they come in all shapes, sizes and textures. Activities that encourage fine motor skills development are also used commonly at our centres, as these can be challenging areas for some neurodiverse individuals. Tasks such as cutting and pasting, placing blocks in a container, drawing and painting are great activities for increasing proficiency with fine motor movements. Gross motor skills are also developed and encouraged in our outdoor areas – where volume is no issue, and our sports and climbing equipment is designed to support those that need physical movement to feel at their best. On the flip side – calming activities are an essential in our centres, for when children are feeling overwhelmed or dysregulated. Our quiet corners are perfect for this – and we dress them with soft cushions, a bean bag, soft fabrics and soft toys to cuddle. While in this space, children can read, draw, listen to quiet music, or relax until they feel more regulated.
We like to use visual cues at our centres to assist all children with the steps and requirements for tasks. Visual aids typically hold more appeal than worded instructions and provide simple step-by-step instructions for children to understand. They can be especially helpful with neurodiverse individuals – as reminders and prompts. At Genius, we provide images of how to wash hands, where to put bags and drink bottles, and how to pack away our toys, to name a few. Sometimes our educators also implement a visual schedule for each day, with pictures of upcoming activities – to help little learners manage their expectations of the day and motivate them to move to the next thing without feeling overwhelmed.
All children learn and play differently. Observing and listening to how they play with their peers and at home can assist you in tailoring your own play space to their needs. At Genius we create play spaces that are calming, safe and secure while providing educational opportunities. Rooms such as these will have substantial benefits both now and in the future, for all of our children.