With a little luck and a great deal of community support, Macomb County could be home to the state’s first recreational facility for children with autism as early as March 2013.
Play-Place for Autistic Children, or PAC, is the brainchild of Shelby Township resident Shell Jones, whose son Duane was diagnosed with autism at age 2 ½.
“My son loved Disney and Chuck E. Cheese's, but as a mom I was observant that people weren’t always sensitive to his challenges,” Jones said. “I needed a place where I could take him that he would feel comfortable and people would understand, OK, he’s having a meltdown, but he will eventually come out of this and resume play.”
Working with Dr. Rick Solomon, the medical director of the Ann Arbor Center for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Jones found that her son responded best to play therapy. She also realized that while Duane would work with his therapist at home, he was much more motivated and engaged in a recreational environment.
“When he works a game at (Chuck E. Cheese’s), he has to use his fine motor skills to put the coin in the slot to see SpongeBob go across the screen. It’s a motivator (to use his skills), but it’s play,” she said. “When he works with a teacher they say, ‘Put the coin in the piggy bank,’ but there is no motivation.”
This concept of a play-powered environment was the inspiration for the design of PAC. Combining recreation with education, the proposed facility will feature:
- A 24x24 playscape to assist children with developing coordination, climbing, balance and motor planning skills,
- A 4-D theater that will show interactive, reduced sound and increased light movies and film shorts to promote a soothing, behavioral and focus-filled experience,
- A 20-foot merry-go-round to offer sensory integration and vestibular assistance,
- A cosmic laser light chalkroom that will allow children to write on the walls and floor, promoting writing skills as well as sensory and visual stimulation,
- Inflatable bouncers to help children develop balance, coordination and enhance depth perception,
- A kid-friendly salon featuring $7 haircuts in an engaging atmosphere,
- And supplementary services including group speech and occupational therapy, hyperbaric chamber therapy and sensory integration services.
“We will also have a mascot–Paulie PAC-Rat,” said Mary Kilian, Jones’ assistant. “He’ll do educational performances, walk around the facility and hand out goodies, (such as therapy toys). He’s a very sweet looking rat and looks really young in his PAC T-shirt, cap and cargo pants.”
While there is still a year of fund-raising and planning ahead, Kilian said PAC has already received a lot of local support.
“We have talked to other families and the response has been, ‘Oh my gosh, this is just what we need. Everyone has been very supportive, and everyone is very excited about it.”
Jones is currently looking for a 16,000-square-foot facility near Hall Road in which to house PAC. For additional information on PAC, or to view membership information, click here.
Donations can also be made through the PAC website.
PAC pancake 'friend-raiser' at MISD
Families with special needs children are also invited to a PAC friend-raiser and all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast Saturday, Sept. 29, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Macomb Intermediate School District, located at 44001 Garfield Rd. in Clinton Township.
The breakfast will feature Chris Cakes and their famous flying, flipping pancake show. There will be cartoons, crafts a 50/50 raffle and more. Paulie the PAC Rat will make his debut appearance and be available for pictures with guests.
The cost is $5 per adult and $3.50 for kids age 12 and under. Reservations are required. The deadline is Sept. 21. For reservations, visit www.autisticplayplace.org or contact Event Coordinator Mary Kilian at 586-254-6533.
A printable copy of the registration form is attached to this article.