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Rochester, WA: Parents of 3 sons with autism open "free place" for families

Dec 3, 2022, Thurston (WA) Talk: Autism Acres Provides a Free Place for Families with Special Needs to Celebrate and Play in Thurston County

Isolated. Forgotten. Overwhelmed. These are emotions that families with kids with special needs often feel, shares Sarah Young. She would know. She and her husband Allan have three boys, all with autism. They found it harder and harder to get out and do things with other families. They found that even churches were not set up to handle the needs of their boys. That’s when they felt led to start Autism Acres in Rochester, a space for kids with special needs to run, play, meet others and most importantly, be themselves. And it’s offered free of charge.

“Throughout the years our friend pool kept getting smaller because our kids couldn’t connect with theirs and they couldn’t relate to our struggles,” shares Sarah. “That combined with the stress of going places with special needs kids, being overwhelmingly exhausted, not wanting to burden others, or our kids being left out or bullied at these get togethers, we constantly felt uncomfortable and overwhelmed. Therefore, we started saying ‘No’ to doing things and we slowly stopped being invited to things. We realized we can’t be the only ones feeling this alone and Autism Acres could give us an opportunity to really serve and love these families and help them make connections in a safe and judgement free environment.”

... Sarah homeschools their three boys and, during her free time, set to work on their dream for Autism Acres.

It was just last year, in October 2021, that they received their 508 (c)1 nonprofit status for Autism Acres, fulfilling their dream of creating a space where parents could relax and their children could be themselves in a non-judgmental environment. ...

“Outings are incredibly stressful for special needs parents. You never know what meltdown or stressors you might have to deal with and never know what stares, glares, or insensitive comments one might receive on top of that,” shares Sarah. So, Sarah and Allan created Autism Acres.

The place consists of their fully-enclosed barn, so parents don’t have to worry about children running off like they would in a public space. Inside the barn is a bounce house, trampoline, sandbox, chalkboards and more for children to play with. The barn is situation on five, fully-fenced acres. They also have four dome swings outside that kids can use. And there are some farm animals including goats.

All this is available free of charge. Just don’t apologize. “We have a quote that we use a lot, ‘We do not want to hear, “I’m sorry.”’ Your kid dumped rocks everywhere, they dumped a bin of cars, they are making loud noises and flapping their hands. Regardless of their behavior we do not want parents to apologize for who their kids are. Let them play how they want to play. Things are replaceable and cleanable. Their noises and hand flapping are who they are, so whatever the behavior, we do not want parents to apologize.”

Parents appreciate the space. “We get multiple comments per play day: ‘It is so nice to have a safe space for my kid to be themself without stares or judgement,’ or, ‘I am so glad I do not have to worry about them running off,’” shares Sarah. The barn has benches for parents to sit on that are situated with a good view of everything, allowing them to have some social time while their child plays….


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