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Synthetic turf does the trick for autistic schoolchildren

(Source: The Arizona Republic, February 6, 2007)
TEMPE, Arizona, USA: For students at the Chrysalis Academy – a Tempe private school that serves autistic and developmentally delayed children – frolicking on the grassy playground came with a price.

Because students tend to suffer from allergies and have a hypersensitivity to the environment, Chrysalis’ executive director, Patty McCartney, said the grass on the school’s playground would trigger attacks. In addition to the dry grass, the terrain of the playground was a hodgepodge of rocks, bark, rubber and other materials that could be easily picked up and thrown or eaten.

“Children with autism like to put things in their mouths, so this was not good,” McCartney said.

But all that changed in November, when a parent, Chris Harlien, installed and co-ordinated the donation of a synthetic lawn.

The soft turf provided a safe and level area that serves recreational and academic purposes.

“It’s almost like an extra classroom,” McCartney said. “It basically doubled our usable space.”

Harlien had enrolled his autistic daughter, Presley, 6, at Chrysalis last summer. At the time, the Mesa resident was the operations manager for a [local artificial grass installation company] in Scottsdale. Harlien approached individual vendors who donated the [artificial grass] backing and filler materials needed and the school pitched in for the turf.

Since then, Harlien said his daughter, who likes to walk around barefoot, no longer came home with splinters in her feet. She and her classmates like to lie on the lawn and enjoy the thick bed of grass without the side effects. The turf is less abrasive, so there are no grass burns or scratches to the skin.

“It was a win-win for both of us and all the children here at the school,” Harlien said.

Teacher Lisa Capozzoli said she took her students to the playground every chance she got. They play board games and do activities that help develop physical, social and communicative skills. Capozzoli said the sunlight was a welcome break from the fluorescent lights, which could hurt the children’s eyes.

“They are able to learn and develop more socially. I use it as an extension of the classroom,” Capozzoli said. “They look forward to coming out here now.”

(Source: The Arizona Republic, February 6, 2007)

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