A Place Where Everyone Belongs and You Never Have to Say You’re Sorry
The birth of Cassidi Jobe’s first son, Parker, changed her life in ways she never expected.
“There wasn’t a single part of my life that wasn’t impacted in one way or another,” recalls Cassidi.
Parker’s life started out just like most others. He began crawling and uttered the unforgettable first words. At about 16 months, he stopped. He stopped talking; he stopped eating and sleeping. At 25 months, Parker was diagnosed with regressive autism.
Regressive autism occurs in at least 20 percent of children with autism. Normal development stalls, often around age 2, and the child begins to lose many of the communication and social skills already mastered.
Preston, Jobe’s second son, was born 16 months after Parker. He was 9 months old when Parker was diagnosed. At that time doctors advised Cassidi there was a 90% chance Preston would develop some sort of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Preston underwent developmental screenings every six months and despite learning and language delays, he was cleared of having Autism at age 4. However, in the middle of his Kindergarten year, Cassidi began getting feedback from Preston’s teacher that sounded all too familiar. Shortly before celebrating his sixth birthday, Preston was diagnosed with autism. That was three years ago.
Parker, now 12, and Preston 11, are on opposite ends of the Autism Spectrum, Parker being severely impacted and Preston, high functioning. “People say it must be difficult,” Cassidi says, “I have no point of reference. My life has been this way ever since I became a mother.“
“Phil and I would take Parker to the playground and rather than go down the slide, he would play at the bottom of it. The way autistic kids play doesn’t always go with the flow. Too, our sons can’t participate in ordinary activities such as visiting a movie theater. Their sensory systems don’t process sounds the same way ours do. Sounds are louder and lights are brighter. The experience is too much for them.
Trying to find a place that accommodated both of our children was impossible. We ended up building a sensory room in the basement of our home.”
“After years of failed attempts to find a community facility where our children could play without being ridiculed for their differences and behaviors, we came across the international organization, ‘We Rock the Spectrum Kids Gym’ — dedicated to providing inclusive play environments to children of all ability levels. It was exactly what we needed,” Cassidi shares.
Dina Kimmel, founder of We Rock The Spectrum is a mother tired of having to say “I’m sorry” every time her autistic child has a meltdown in public. When she was informed that the gym where her child worked with his occupational therapist was closing, she knew she had to do something. She created a gym with the type of equipment where children of all abilities could play and learn together.
The original We Rock the Spectrum opened in 2010 in California and began franchising in 2013. By 2016, there were more than 60 locations in 22 states, as well as a location in Malaysia.
Cassidi opened the only location in the KC area at 7601 NW Roanridge Road in Kansas City, MO, in June of last year.
“This center, this journey, is about our kids. I insist our children have an opportunity to be part of the community. We Rock The Spectrum not only provides that opportunity for our boys but also hundreds of other children with special needs.
Our mission is to promote inclusion. Our gym is not just for children with developmental differences; it’s for children of all ability levels. On any given day, you’ll find children playing, 60% who are neuro-typical and 40% have some type of developmental difference such as autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, sensory processing disorder etc. When you walk in, unless you know what you’re looking for you’re unable to tell the differences in these children because they are all engaged in play together rather than being separated based on their ability levels. It’s a good learning experience because for kids, different can be scary. If you can teach children that being different is ok, it removes all kinds of stigma. Also, when kids and parents interact with children of varying ability levels at our gym, they’re able to better understand the behaviors that can occur with Autism and other developmental disabilities. When they encounter those behaviors in public, they better understand that child and are less likely to ridicule and judge that family.”
Another question Cassidi gets often is “what is a sensory gym” or “what makes your facility different than other indoor play facilities?”
“Our equipment is occupational therapy based,” Cassidi explains. “Our specialized equipment, including the zip line, trampoline, balance equipment, and suspended swings, is specifically designed for children with sensory processing disorders. This equipment aids them in the improvement of their sensory functions while they learn and play. The equipment is specialized, but one of the great things about what we do is that all children can and will benefit from the use of this equipment.
In addition to open play, we offer inclusive classes such as story time and art, playgroups, Moving with Music, Yoga for Kids and, of course, birthday parties.”
We Rock The Spectrum is also mobile with what Cassidi refers to as the sensory bus, “We Rock on Wheels”. The bus is a mobile version of the gym. It contains a zip line, rock-climbing wall, balance equipment, and other pieces of their specialized equipment.
When the bus isn’t rented out for parties, it’s used for community outreach. Cassidi says it’s just one more way to promote understanding and awareness of those with developmental differences in the community.
“At the end of the day, everybody just wants to belong and every child and parent needs a place where they never have to say they’re sorry,” concludes Cassidi. “My goal is to provide that place. Based on community response, I believe we’re off to a great start.”
Find hours, pricing and more information at WeRockTheSpectrumKansasCity.com.