Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Something for Everyone

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Something for Everyone

Article excerpt

A love for children who have special needs prompted Lori and Willie Johnson to not only adopt 12 of them, but create a special play area to ensure their fun, safety, and therapy. The Johnsons started adopting children who have special needs in the early 1980s. They wanted to broaden their family, as well as instill in their own four able-bodied children an open-mindedness toward people who have special needs. The Johnsons retired from their jobs to take on a full-time role in their children's care. In a house with 16 children, the Johnsons knew that a big space would be needed to accommodate the family. They decided a play area in the backyard would be the best route to take.

Building hopes

For the Johnsons, space was not their only concern. The couple wanted to enable their children to enjoy an accessible, safe, and therapeutic play experience.

Seeking guidance, Lori consulted their physical therapist Dana Davis, who helped her choose some adaptive toys and play area equipment. The list included: a tetherball court, a punching bag, rings, an adaptive bicycle, adaptive toy cars, a wagon, tricycles, a battery-operated car, toddler swings, monkey bars, a play kitchen, a heavy-duty plastic playhouse, a picnic table, and a slide. All of this equipment did not come cheaply, so they not only had to make room in their backyard, but in their wallets as well. The children's physical therapist wrote a letter on the family's behalf. As a result, they qualified to obtain some funding for the play area. Through family support services, their state agency made the grant. When the details were worked out, they moved on to the building phase.

A do-it-yourself project

Coupled with Lori's broad imagination and Willie's knowledge of carpentry and construction, the project was ready to take off. Since the start of construction, the playground as it now stands, cost the Johnson's about $3,000. All stages of the play area were completed with one deck connecting to another with a ramp. Then equipment and therapeutic toys were added as necessary. Watching the children play out in the yard every day, the Johnsons have noted several positive changes.

The benefits

Since the completion of the playground, Lori has noticed that every one of her children has a place to play--whether swinging on the rings, playing on the tetherball court, playing with the toys, or just being with each other. In addition, the Johnson's three children who use wheelchairs, are now able to play with their brothers and sisters. The equipment and toys have also brought about vast improvements in each child. For example, 8-year-old Shanika, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, has benefited from the rings because they build her upper body strength. Bethany, 6, who has fetal alcohol syndrome and has poor muscle tone, has shown marked improvements in mobility. Since she started playing on the playground, she is able to run around, jump, play, and pull herself up on the rings. Because of these types of improvements, Lori and Willie have decided to expand the playground.

The future

The playground is an open-ended project for the Johnsons. They plan to build more decks, play areas, and even a tree house. The goal they keep in mind is to make everything stimulating, by finding ways for the children to exercise for their lower and upper body and have fun together. Loft and Willie have put their hearts into this project for the love of their family. Their reward? The rambunctious laughter and smiles of their children.

EDITORS NOTE. In keeping with our theme of accessible areas of the home, EXCEPTIONAL PARENT will take a look at accessible kitchens in our June issue.

This project would not have been possible without Lori's imagination and her husband's knowledge of carpentry and construction. It is important, however, to weigh all options and costs before starting a project. …

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