WisBusiness: Wisconsin mother looks to make playing a Ďsensationí for all kids
By Sawyer Hildebrandt
As a kid, nothing is better than being able to play. For children with special needs and their families, however, finding a space to play can sometimes be difficult.
One Wisconsin mother is planning to change that with Sensational Exploratorium.
Kelly Boyce Doyle, like many parents in Wisconsin, knows the difficulties of raising a special-needs child first hand. Four years ago, Doyleís son, William, was born with Down syndrome and later diagnosed with autism and epilepsy. Since her sonís diagnosis, Doyle has made it her mission to understand everything she can about Williamís conditions so that she can better help him.
In doing this, she has made friends with parents of special-needs children all across Wisconsin, the nation and the world. One question that has come up from nearly every parent Doyle has encountered has been: Where can we take our kids to play?
Many special-needs children simply cannot play in the same places as other kids. Loudness, overstimulation, accessibility, and safety are all potential issues in traditional play spaces. Most families of children with special needs donít have the money or the space for the therapeutic play equipment their children need.
Thatís why Doyle is developing Sensational Exploratorium, a unique play center for all kids, but designed specifically for kids with special needs.
At its core, Sensational Exploratorium will be about providing opportunities for therapeutic learning and play to kids that they wonít be able to get anywhere else.
The center will feature a combination of physical and multi-sensory stimulation, as well as plenty of interactive technology - from gross-motor equipment such as climbing walls and bike tracks, to fine-motor activities such as art and music. Doyle even plans on incorporating iPads for activities, and an interactive room that allows a child to change everything in their environment.
While Sensational Exploratorium is primarily about the kids, it's also aimed at being a great place for the families. Most children with developmental disorders receive some sort of therapy, often many times a week for multiple hours. Outside of these sessions, there arenít very many places a family can go to engage with their kid in ways that are fun, safe, and therapeutic. Doyle also envisions that Sensational Exploratorium will be a place where families can find resources to help them help their children.
ďI want to be able to offer that at the center as well,Ē said Doyle. ďIt should be a gathering place for support for the family. A place to network, and find a community.Ē
In addition, Doyle would like to be able to bring in experts to give talks to parents on everything from nutrition to communication, all to assist the families in their journey.
Market statistics suggest a need for places like Sensational Exploratorium. In Wisconsin, 15.5 percent of children and about one in five families have some sort of special healthcare need; slightly higher than the national average. For Wisconsin, and the Midwest, Sensational Exploratorium would be the first of its kind. Doyle believes there are only three centers like it nationwide, spread out in California, Georgia and Massachusetts.
ďItís a huge need. There are so many kids that would benefit from something like this, and Iíve been amazed that there isnít anything like it in the Midwest,Ē said Doyle.
Doyle was a semi-finalist in the 2012 Wisconsin Governorís Business Plan Contest. She expects the start-up cost of the center to be around $250,000, for purchasing equipment and interactive technologies, and hopes to finance it through loans from the U.S Small Business Association, and with help from private investors.
Doyle plans on setting up Sensational Exploratorium in the Milwaukee area, in proximity to the Childrenís Hospital of Wisconsin, around which many families with special-needs children have made their home.
-- Hildebrandt is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.