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Schaer Legislation Encourages Creation of "Blue Parks" to Make Parks Safer & More Inclusive for Children with Special Needs

Launched in Passaic, “Blue Parks” initiative makes parks more accommodating for special needs children, including those whose conditions make them a flight risk

(TRENTON) – In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic) will introduce legislation to encourage municipalities and counties in New Jersey to follow the City of Passaic’s “Blue Park” initiative, which aims to make parks safer and more inclusive for special needs children, including those on the autism spectrum.

“We should make every effort to make our parks safer and more inclusive for all children to enjoy,” said Schaer. “What is being done in Passaic should be replicated throughout the state so children with special needs can fully enjoy their outings at the park, and parents and caregivers can rest a little easier knowing that extra safety measures are in place.”

The goal of the Blue Parks initiative is to make parks safer and more welcoming to children with special needs, particularly those children who may be considered a flight risk due to conditions such as autism. Parks are made safer by fencing play areas, installing gates equipped with latches placed higher than the average child under 12 years of age can reach to open, and positioning benches near the exit so that parents and caretakers can easily monitor children playing inside the enclosure. In addition to safety measures, Blue Parks may also include sensory play objects for children who respond well to tactile play, and structures that may assist children experiencing sensory overload.

Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disabilities characterized by atypical development in socialization, communication, and behavior. According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on March 2016, the nationwide occurrence of autism is one in 68 children; while in New Jersey, the occurrence is one in 41 children.

“An outing to the park requires a bit more planning for families with children on the autism spectrum. These parks can help alleviate some of those safety concerns and allow these families to enjoy more and worry less,” added Schaer. “As we recognize Autism Awareness Month, this is a great way to help these families, raise awareness and promote public understanding.”