WESTFORD — A new gym has opened its doors on Lyberty Way which aims to provide inclusive sensory experiences for children and teens.
We Rock the Spectrum, a chain with over 150 locations worldwide, opened its most recent location in Westford as franchise owner Samantha O’Brien applied her background in occupational therapy to introduce this unique concept to the Merrimack Valley.
“My kids are neurodivergent, this is what they need,” she told WestfordCAT. “If they need it, then other people need it in the community as well.”
The gym houses equipment for children to play without creating an overstimulating environment.
“It’s designed to meet the sensory needs of our neurodivergent students, so they can come to play and be successful,” she said. “They can come play and not be overwhelmed.”
She continued, “this [gym] levels the playing field, any indoor playground can be overstimulating.”
O’Brien hopes to turn the space into a community resource.
“We want to be more than just an indoor playground,” she said.
The gym has a classroom for professionals to work with children who may not have their own office space. We Rock the Spectrum also houses a room for parents, a party room and a room for children to “decompress.”
“We don’t want to get to that meltdown point,” she said. “So we have tools for calming, things to look at and things to use.”
She added,” sometimes, kids can only play at an indoor playground for 10 or 15 minutes. Here, we have play dates that can last two or three hours.”
Though the gym is designed to create a safe space for neurodivergent children, the gym is open to students of all ages and abilities.
“You don’t have to have a diagnosis to access our equipment,” she said. “We try to keep our pricing as accessible as possible.”
She continued, “the access to this equipment is on the child’s terms, not on a therapist’s terms. It allows them to relax and get to it on their own time.”
For parents with neurodivergent children, this gym is a blessing. Valerie Skigis, Chelmsford, recently discovered the gym with her daughter Eliana.
“There’s something here for everyone. It’s so important, there’s no other facility in our area that has anything like this concept,” Skigis told WestfordCAT.
Ultimately, O’Brien aims to build a better understanding of neurodiversity within the community.
“I think the most misunderstood aspect is that it’s a cognitive disability, it’s more of a nervous system disorder. Our children are on high alert in everyday situations,” she said.
She added, “having spaces like this [the gym] or calming spaces inside of existing community spaces can be beneficial to kids. Neurodivergent families would feel seen by that.”