Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Interview with Louise Weadock of WeeZee, The World of "Yes, I Can"

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Parents of young children with autism are often looking for ways to get their kids moving more. So many children on the autism spectrum don’t get enough physical activity, but it can also be challenging for parents to find appropriate physical activities that are sensitive to their children’s various sensory needs or that help integrate the senses of children with sensory integration disorder (SID).  As many of our families know from experience, children on the autism spectrum often have sensory integration challenges.  Moreover, many typically developing children also have sensory issues – ranging from mild to very severe. Particularly for families living in or near Chappaqua, NY – or those looking for a fun day out of the city – there is a new option for sensory appropriate fun and physical activity.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Louise Weadock, the Founder & CEO of WeeZee,the World of “Yes, I Can,” an 18,000 square foot health/fitness facility for children ages 12 months to 12 years and their families which opened in mid-2012 in Chappaqua, to learn more about her unique program and how she developed WeeZee.  NAA NYM is always excited to share new information with families and to give families a chance to see if a program might be a good fit for them and so I am excited to share what Louise and I chatted about right before the holidays.

At WeeZee, Louise and her staff offer a unique opportunity to families for play that incorporates learning, sensory sensitivity, and safety management.  She shared with me that children, both typical and special needs, participating at WeeZee are seeing improvements in social skills, athletic coordination and academics.  Moreover, while children with sensory issues in particular may benefit from the environment at WeeZee, typical children, including siblings can come enjoy the fun as well – creating an experience that siblings can share and in which they can relate with one another while just having fun.  Finding those experiences can be a difficult for families of children with autism or other challenges – creating such an environment is another added bonus of WeeZee.

WeeZee is Louise’s brainchild and she drew upon decades of personal and professional experience concerning the sensory needs of children in developing the facility.  She is a registered Child Psychiatric Nurse, graduate of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the owner of a well-established nursing and healthcare services company also located in Chappaqua.  In addition to her own knowledge and research, Louise worked with other professionals to help determine what “worked” and what didn’t in developing a facility for children to integrate their senses, to be active, and to play. 

With personal experiences as well, she recognizes how important sensory integration is to children – both typical and special needs.  We discussed that if a child’s sensory needs go unmet, a child may be prevented from meeting his full potential.  As she told me, if a child’s senses are not working well, she cannot store and appropriately apply the information that she is taking in from her environment, let alone to generalize that information to other environments and experiences.  As a parent of a child with sensory issues, her words rang true to me – meeting my son’s various sensory needs is very important to his academic and social/emotional progress and even he is recognizing those needs and working to self-regulate.  Louise also recognizes the importance of physical activity for all children as well as the basic, though often forgotten, fact that kids need to have fun and just be kids!  WeeZee was designed to address all these needs.  Too often even very young children today are sedentary.  They don’t think creatively as much as they should and they don’t move.  They lose muscle tone and flexibility.

WeeZee fills a niche largely unmet for today’s young children, especially children with sensory integration issues. WeeZee is not a therapeutic center and it is not meant to replace occupational therapy.   Instead, it offers a supportive fun environment that is complementary to therapeutic work done elsewhere. 

WeeZee is a fun spacious facility with room for children to move around while receiving the benefits of a sensory-friendly environment.  Equipment and spaces are coded (color and symbol, helpful for even the youngest visitors!) for different senses:  touch, sight, smell, taste, hearing, and self.  For gym members (which now comprise approximately 300 children – about half of whom are children with IEPs), WeeZee staff members develop an individualized sensory circuit of activities – sort of like circuit training but not just on a physical level.  Staff works with the parents to develop a sensory profile of each child, including using an objective sensory assessment as part of the profile, and then match equipment/exercises with the child’s sensory needs and physical abilities.  WeeZee staff seeks to balance challenging children in areas needing support as well as gaining cooperation and furthering self-confidence in areas in which the children have strengths.  Children can try out different pieces of equipment to see what they prefer, further fine-tuning their personalized circuit.  Moreover, children move at a pace that is comfortable for them.  WeeZee recognizes that children with autism and SID may need time to adapt to the new environment and new equipment and are sensitive to those needs.

WeeZee Staff is screened and well trained (taught about behavior management, neurophysical principles and other relevant areas).  Louise challenges the WeeZee staff to share ideas and think outside the box to continue to improve WeeZee and children’s experiences there but she says that a really special thing that each employee must bring to working with children at WeeZee is that you “have to have a heart to begin with.”  Staff is made up primarily of college graduates with group experience working with children and interests in fields such as healthcare, social work and education.

In addition to memberships, WeeZee also offers afterschool programs, birthday parties, classes and other activities.

In part to try to establish more formal data about the kinds of play activities that WeeZee offers, they have also launched a nonprofit called Sensory Bullets.  Sensory Bullets will aim to provide research grants, to provide training and education to families, caregivers and professionals working with children with ASD and SID, to provide academic, service or program scholarships to IEP students.  

Thanks to Louise for a great interview!

Kim Mack Rosenberg



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