Special-needs parenting: The milestone of playing independently

Today's Parent blogger Anchel Krishna shares how her daughter's latest milestone reminds her of what matters most in life.
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Syona plays with her new favourite toy at the park. Photo: Anchel Krishna.

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary toddler with cerebral palsy. 

This year we celebrated Canada Day by going to a park and meeting up with a few other families who have children with special needs. It was a last minute plan after I looked at our impossibly over-scheduled calendar and realized that we had a free day with no appointments or family plans. Yes there was laundry, cooking and cleaning to do at home but a free day is rare and we wanted to party (How do parents of toddlers party? By going to the park, of course).

But we didn’t just go to any park. We went to a fully accessible park designed so children of all abilities can play. Before we went I really didn’t know what to expect. Since Syona is still little, we play with her at our regular neighbourhood park in a pretty hands-on way and I wasn’t sure what an accessible park would look like or what kind of difference it would make in her play.

The park featured an accessible treehouse with space that was wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, slides that were big enough for a caregiver and child, accessible swings and vertically mounted toys that allowed kids in wheelchairs to slide right in and play with them.

And that’s when something absolutely incredible happened. Syona played with a toy… in a functional way. For those of you that have children with special needs, you will understand why this is so important. For readers that aren’t quite as familiar, let me explain with an example. Your “typical” 2 ½ year old can play with a classic ring stacker. They can take rings off, put rings on and many kids of this age start to understand the concept of “order” — that the bigger ring goes on the bottom and the smaller rings go on top. Or think about a puzzle — a typical child can often use trial and error until they get to the right piece and shape. If it doesn’t fit, they experiment with turning the puzzle piece around until it slides into the proper spot. My kid can not do this. No matter how hard we seem to try (and we do try; these two examples have been on Syona’s goals list for over a year, we work at them almost every day). She has a hard time with her hands and hand-eye coordination.

But at this park (now known as heaven on earth) Syona had the best time playing with a wheel mounted on the side of the treehouse. She turned it from side to side, pretended to drive, pushed herself away from the side of the treehouse and then would go back to the wheel by pulling herself forward. I pretended to honk a horn and Syona laughed like I was the funniest person on earth. I actually could step back a few feet and let her play on her own. She was having SUCH a good time that she attracted a few other kids (who couldn’t quite figure out why this wheel was the best toy ever). I had the biggest smile on my face and tears in my eyes as I watched Syona. She was so happy. So proud of herself. So independent. And it was just the reassurance I needed. Syona might not play with toys in the same way as others, but she will find a way to have fun. So what’s an accessible park? In my world it’s an incredible place that can bring joy to so many families. Amazing.

Do you have a favourite park? What are your kid’s favourite toys?

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