Created by the Mom of a Child with Disabilities and Long-Time GS Patient
There’s a new “hot spot” in town that brings together children of all abilities in their own special play gym. It’s the adaptable sensory gym, Sensory Towne, opened in July, which helps children with balance, social skills, body awareness and overall development of the senses.
The students and patients at Great Strides Rehab, along with all the children the therapists work with at various fragile care centers, were recently treated to a fun night there by Dr. Edenfield, Executive Director, to check it all out. More than 25 kids, from ages three to teenagers, and their parents participated in this “patient appreciation night” swinging, sliding, playing games on interactive floors and other adventures.
Such a place did not exist in Northeast Florida and beyond before Kimberly Belzer, a mom of a son with disabilities, became determined to create her decade-long dream of a place where all abilities, whether “typical” or “special needs,” could “fit-in” and play together.
Belzer, a single parent to a multi-handicapped son, now age 14, was born with the genetic disorder Hydrocephalus, is autistic, nonverbal and has survived 16 surgeries and cancer. Brandon, and kids like him, require a lot of sensory input — spinning, rocking, calming lights, vibration, squeezing, and touching — to function during the day. Since Brandon was four, his mom has searched for, and not been able to find, an inclusive play space for children of varying needs that Brandon could enjoy.
Determined to create such an inclusive play-space, Belzer has spent years researching the best sensory input activities and equipment. She also credits Dr. Edenfield’s advice and support in helping make Sensory Towne a reality.
Dr. Edenfield and his therapists have been working with Brandon since he was two months old.
This was even before Great Strides Rehab was created, when Dr. Edenfield was working as an occupational therapist at Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital. Great Strides therapists Hanna and John Kirkland have worked with Brandon for close to a decade on many everyday skills from something as simple as pointing to learning how to feed himself and walk up steps.
“Great Strides has helped so much with Brandon’s independence so that now he can dress himself, select his own games on the I-pad, open the fridge and drawers, and get in and out of the car without assistance,” said Belzer. “They are highly caring people who will do anything to help you with your child’s needs, such as when Hanna and her husband came to my home and re-engineered Brandon’s bidet so he could push the button without turning around. “
And now Sensory Towne helps children with special needs in their development while having fun with most activities at wheel-chair level. There’s a sensory house, rolling slide, foam pits, a tactile library, motion-sensored interactive game floor, a chill spa (calming room) with vibrating bubble tubes, fiber optics and ocean sounds, rock walls and swings that spin, let a child lay-down, or allow multiple children for social interaction. There’s also an adult size changing table in the bathroom for parents that have older special needs children, and a sensory store to purchase unique sensory items.
“Since opening, we have had children of all capabilities come to play and it has been a beautiful thing to see,” said Belzer. “Sensory Towne is about kids playing together and learning about one another in the same space.”
Classes are now being formed for kids dance and yoga, music and movement, and interactive story-time. Check out listed schedules by going to www.sensorytowne.com or see all the fun on Facebook. Sensory Towne is located in the Centurion Square Shopping Center on the corner of Baymeadows Road and Philllips Highway.
“If there is something you’d like for your child and we don’t have it, tell us about it and we will try to get it,” said Belzer.