Two Autism Moms On A Mission To Create A Sensory Gym In Their Neighborhood

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

One of things I admire most about autism parents is their willingness to give back. If you’ve never met an autism parent before, one thing you need to know about them is:  when they see a need, they work to fill the void. Often, it is the parents of children with autism that open specialized schools, programs and play groups.

Alysia Butler and Tina Perriello are two autism moms who are working desperately to fill a void in Hopedale, Massachusetts.

Back in February, Alysia and Tina had the opportunity to attend a sponsored sensory gym with their kids. The moms saw how happy it made their children. They watched as their children made friends who were just like them. And they had the chance to connect with other families like theirs. There was no judgement, no stares, no fear – it was a safe place for everyone.  And while the moms felt incredibly lucky that their local Autism Alliance provided this much needed sensory gym during the winter months, they knew that their community needed it all year long.

Howie going through the Squeeze Machine

Alysia blogs at Try Defying Gravity and she wrote about their experience at the sensory gym. Upon reading that post, it was Alysia’s husband who encouraged her to “open a place like that.” Whether her husband was joking or not, Alysia knew opening a sensory gym was something she had to do. As a mom of three boys (two with an autism diagnosis), Alysia knew that there wasn’t a sensory gym within her neighborhood – not even in her neighboring neighborhoods. As an autism mom, Alysia also knew that her children needed specific equipment – a covered swing, a squeeze machine, a trampoline – to meet her children’s sensory needs.

Without thinking twice, Alysia and Tina met with a business consultant, they reached out to their community and family members, conducted a survey and wrote a detailed business plan. They invested two thousand dollars of their own money and countless hours of mom power. They filed the necessary paperwork and SenseAbility Gym, Incorporated was created. The goal is to be open by January – right in time for the cold winter months – when parents and kids need the sensory gym most.

This past Saturday was SenseAbility Gym’s very first fundraiser. The moms filled a room with about 150 people, Alysia gave an incredible speech and they were featured in their local paper. They raised nearly 40% of their start up $38,000 goal. As a non-profit organization, SenseAbility will rely on donations and grants. Neither Alysia or Tina will be on salary. Every dollar raised will go right back to making SenseAbility accessible for all families who need it.

I had the pleasure of meeting Alysia back in August at BlogHer, a blog conference for women. She was friendly but shy with a quiet calm about her. But once she started talking about her kids, autism and lack of services – she became passionate, outspoken and I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. At the time, I had no idea about the gym she was dreaming about. And when she posted about the upcoming fundraiser on Facebook, she referred to it as, “a little non-profit.”

According to the survey results, SenseAbility has the potential to provide for 400 families – probably more. Ain’t nothing little about that.

I may not be a Hopedale resident, but I’m an autism mom and I know how much Hopedale needs this gym. I know how limited resources can be for our kids. And I know the difference a place like SenseAbility could make for them. There isn’t a sensory gym in our neighborhood either. I used to take three buses to get Norrin to his sensory gym – in the heat, snow and rain. But week after week, I went because I knew how much my son needed it.

Alysia’s son Howie calls SenseAbility “a place where kids can learn to get along.”

Alysia and Tina want it to be a place where families of special needs kids can meet other families who share the same experiences. Alysia and Tina know that parents need the support just as much as the kids need the sensory gym.

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  1. by Alysia

    On September 26, 2012 at 7:42 am

    Lisa, thank you SO much for sharing our story and for writing about it so eloquently. We are so honored and grateful. You are an amazing writer. Thank you.

  2. by Miz Kp

    On September 26, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Congratulations to Alysia and Tina and all the children who will benefit from this wonderful facility you have opened. Thanks to you Lisa for helping to spread the word. I look forward to hearing more good things about this gym. I know for sure we could use more of this where I live.

  3. by another jennifer

    On September 26, 2012 at 8:23 am

    I love that this is happening in my hometown of Hopedale. I also got to meet Alysia at BlogHer this year. She is passionate about helping other autism moms and families. Go Alysia and Tina!

  4. by Niksmom

    On September 26, 2012 at 8:27 am

    What a fantastic opportunity for the community of Hopedale! And what a beautiful write up of their story. I hope it motivates others to donate if they can or to find ways that they, too, can step in to fill a void in their own community…on whatever scale they can.

  5. by Patty

    On September 26, 2012 at 8:52 am

    This just makes me so happy! Alysia has been supporting and inspiring me for years–ever since I discovered her wonderful blog. I am so excited about this gym and wish we lived closer so we could help and take advantage of it!

    The longer I’m in the autism community, the more I realize that the biggest, best changes/services are coming from parents who are willing to put their talents to good use helping kids like mine!