Osceola County’s SENSES Park, which was designed for kids with autism, recently scored an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo).
The awards honor innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for residents.
SENSES opened in 2019 and is the first play space in Osceola County purposefully designed with children on the Autism spectrum in mind. Constructed on the site of a former fire station, it received the NACo recognition in the parks and recreation category for facilities that “revitalize and reimagine existing or create new public spaces that benefit residents and visitors.”
SENSES is inspiring other nearby communities to plan similar facilities, according to a county press release.
“Our vision and innovation continue to be recognized and this award showcases a facility that offers exciting opportunities for families in our community,” said Commission Chairwoman Viviana Janer, who pushed for the park, which is in her district in the Buenaventura Lakes community. “Inclusion is a key component of SENSES Park and this a wonderful space that allows children of all abilities to confidently have fun. It supports positive interactions and emphasizes the abilities of children with special needs rather than their disabilities.”
NACo President Mary Ann Borgeson said, “We are seeing firsthand now more than ever that counties work tirelessly to support our residents. This year’s Achievement Award-winning programs showcase how counties build healthy, safe and vibrant communities across America.”
Awards are given in 18 different categories that reflect the vast, comprehensive services counties provide. Started in 1970, NACo’s annual Achievement Awards program is designed to recognize county government innovations. Each nominee is judged on its own merits and not against other applications.
At SENSES, structures are separated by space to allow for self-learning, exploration, and less intense social play experiences. Design plans took into account elements such as noise control, population density, and playground equipment size to better serve the unique target audience safely. The park site is small enough to gate and enclose, ensuring a more controlled environment where children can safely wander and explore their environment.
Autism rates are rising in the U.S., and the special needs of children with autism spectrum disorders often are not met in traditional recreation facilities, the press release stated. Working with specialists and community partners, Osceola County designed and built the park to be all-inclusive – welcoming, safe, and entertaining for all children. The park is accessible to children with physical disabilities as well, and caregivers for seniors with dementia also have found the park uniquely suited to meet their needs.
SENSES Park is located at 2296 Camelia Drive.
The park was previously recognized by the Florida Association of Counties with a Best Practice Award.