Are you looking for an innovative space for kids with autism in your life? The Play-Place Autism and Special Needs Center, a nonprofit organization in Sterling Heights, is packed with lots of fun for children and a supportive community for their families, too.
It’s all the vision of founder Shell Jones. As a metro Detroit mother of child with autism, she knows the rewards and challenges firsthand. After all, in Michigan, there are around 50,000 people with autism, the Michigan Autism Program notes – and this includes more than 19,600 school-age students, as of the most recently reported numbers.
“We have a concentration of about 8,000 of those kids right here in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties,” Jones says. When she noticed a lack of appropriate activities for her child that encompassed the entire family, Jones set out to create a facility to do just that.
A unique play space
Play-Place Autism and Special Needs Center – which first opened as the Play-Place for Autistic Children in 2016 – is a recreational, educational and therapeutic facility.
Splashed with color and tactile touches, this vibrant 25,000 square-foot space offers a carousel and swings – plus a computer cafe, art studio, Lego Castle (pictured above) and laser light chalk room and the Haircut Hut, which is attuned to ASD sensitivities.
“Every piece of equipment that’s featured in the center has some type of therapeutic or educational element,” Jones says.
From these play nooks to programming like field trips, Teen Night Tuesday and Cinema City, Play-Place is designed for kids with signs and symptoms of autism and their siblings. This makes it an ideal balance for the parent who’s raising a child with autism along with a neurotypical kid. That said, children with other special needs are welcome, too. Play-Place is open to all ages, cognitive levels and disabilities.
Jones adds, “We basically provide a judgment-free, non-discouraging, safe place for families to come and enjoy some quality time together.”
Like all family fun play centers, Play-Place Autism and Special Needs Center is about creating positive experiences. In addition, though, it includes important elements for its special young guests.
The volunteers, for example, are trained and undergo background checks. But more than that, they must be “caring and patient” in assisting kids and their families, Play-Place notes on its website.
Family involvement and safety is key. Visiting parents or caregivers must remain with their children at all times. And any adult who enters the Play-Place undergoes background checks, as well. The facility is also a nut-free environment.
While play is important in the present, parents of kids with special needs are keenly focused on future needs, too. So is Play-Place, which also calls itself a “haven of hope.”
Moms, dads and caregivers can seek advice on special needs trusts, nutrition, dental health, therapies and more in one-hour Parent Resource Nights workshops, for instance. There are also professional support and respite services for parents and siblings.
Also, with Play-Place’s WorkPlace Program, there’s a focus on helping kids with special needs build vital life and vocational skills, along with independence.
Hours, costs and details
Play-Place Autism and Special Needs Center is located at 41105 Technology Park Drive in Sterling Heights. The open play hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
Admission is $7 per child or dependent and $3 per adult or caregiver and covers play equipment, or $25-$125 per month for memberships, which include additional amenities. Call 586-254-6533 or visit the Play-Place Autism and Special Needs Center Facebook page for more details.
Photo courtesy of Play-Place Autism and Special Needs Center
This post was originally published in 2014 and is updated regularly.