Play Place for children with autism is more than a playground

A local mother saw a need and is trying to fill it, creating a place where children with autism can play and be accepted for who they are.

"My son was diagnosed at 2 and a half with autism," said Shell Jones. "And after a long search for a place that would embrace us as a family affected by autism and finding that there was no place, I decided to develop the community myself."

Jones' plan to make a safe place for families affected by autism is finally becoming a reality. It's a special place, but it's still a work in progress.

By the end of the year, Play-Place hopes to add an art studio, a haircut hut and a computer lab with programs designed to help autistic children develop skills they need.

"There's so much more than just idle play," Jones said. "It's purpose driven play that gives you that balance of normalcy. And the ability to socialize and just have fun and pick up life skills, vocational training, and resources for the parents and the child."

Play-Place is designed for autistic children, but it's much more. It's also designed to be a safe haven for the families who care for these children. It provides a space where they don't have to worry about other people staring or whispering.

"It will be a no judgment zone. a 'judgment-free zone' if you want to call it that," said Damian Sharbowski, vice-president of Northern Detroit Development group.

Sharbowski is the father of a child with autism.

"Every other person that will be in here will in the same shoes, in the same boat that you're in," he said. 

It's been a long journey and Play-Place has come this far, only because of the support it's received from dozens of local contractors, sheet metal workers, and other local businesses.

The folks at Play-Place call them heroes.

"We've gotten so much community support and I'm just overwhelmed with gratefulness," Jones said.

"We need to step up to the plate and give back to the locals and the things we need to take care of,"  Sharbowski said. "There's a lot of other foundations and places out there that could use our help, but something that's near and dear to my heart, my son's autistic, so this one's really close to home."

As they hit the home stretch, Play-Place needs a last bit of support, so it can open its doors to the public and start serving the community.

"We're hoping to have our doors open by the end of the year," Jones said. "And with donations and more support, we'll be able to achieve that with no problem." 

For more information, http://www.autisticplayplace.org/ or call the office at (586) 254-6533.

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