Special needs

How a park swing changed our lives

The addition of a park swing at a local playground has helped a little girl with cerebral palsy join the other kids.

Syona

Syona tests out her new swing at the park. Photo: Anchel Krishna

Like just about every other kid in the world, Syona loves going to our local park—and so do I. Just after my daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and we were adjusting to our new special-needs life, going to the park was the one thing that made me feel like the average, run-of-the-mill, everyday parent. We made it a point to get to the park regularly, even if it was just for a few minutes, and I was as committed to that as I was to her therapy routines.

Because Syona can’t run around the park on her own, she has three key pieces of jungle gym equipment she loves—the slide, the splash pad and the swing. But at the end of last summer we realized that putting her in the swing was becoming difficult. Although she couldn’t sit independently in the big-kid swing, the baby swing was increasingly tough to fit her into. Because cerebral palsy makes her leg muscles tight, it’s tough for her to bend at the knee, and her muscles often pull in, making her legs cross.

This spring we put in call to our local municipality asking if they could install an accessible swing so Syona could enjoy her favourite park activity. We were wary of what hoops we’d have to jump through to get it.

As it turns out, it wasn’t that tough. All it took was an initial phone call and email explaining our request and then about two to three months of weekly follow-up calls. Although this may sound like a lot to some, parents of kids with special needs gain a lot of experience at making our case and following up—it’s actually a task we have to do with a lot of different people and organizations. In our family, we use a calendar with alerts to do this as the sheer number of calls we have to make can get overwhelming.

After my recent appearance on Canada AM, I was driving home one day and I passed our local park and noticed the city had installed the swing. I was so excited.

So within a week, that swing has changed our life. Here’s how:
• I no longer have to contort my back to get to get Syona in and out of a swing.
• She doesn’t have red marks or light bruises from where her legs were rubbing against the baby swing.
• It’s a great conversation starter for other parents we meet in the park.
• Grandparents, caregivers, etc. can now take Syona to the park with less stress and know that she’s safe.

But there’s something else about that swing that makes me happy. To me, it represents how a little thing, like a swing, can make our community feel more inclusive. And I hope that, as she grows up, it will help Syona understand that she does belong and she is just as able to do the same things other kids do, in her own way.

Now, excuse me, while I run off to read the hilarious post by Ian Mendes about how to get kids to leave the park.

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary toddler with cerebral palsy. Read all of Anchel’s Special-needs parenting posts and follow her on Twitter @AnchelK.