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Beaverton’s Spectra Gymnastics Provides Play Spaces for Kids on the Autism Spectrum
"We’re all about inclusion, inclusion, inclusion.”
By AP Kryza
Indoor play places are essential for kids—and even more so for parents—during the rainy season. But they can also be a total sensory overload, with sugar-addled demons going full Lord of the Flies while parents stare listlessly at pints and iPhones.
For a lot of kids, that's the whole point. But when you're on the autism spectrum, this leads to an unbearable cacophony—a crazed fever dream of frustrated play. That's exactly what Spectra Gymnastics, in Beaverton, seeks to correct.
"I recognize the lack of resources, especially in the sports industry, and how much it can benefit kids socially, physically, cognitively," says founder Karissa Johnson, an applied behavioral analysis therapist who opened Spectra three years ago in a nondescript office mall near Washington Square. Offering classes and camps for kids across the spectrum, the place has everything you'd need in a gymnastics space—rings, a floor-length trampoline, balance beams—plus tunnels, roller slides and other sensory-based equipment.
And on weekends, the open gym from 9 am to noon becomes a well-controlled free-for-all for all kids to come together under the shared banner of fun, with the staff controlling the number of little bodies admitted so no one's overwhelmed.
"We could easily take open gym away and just do classes," says Johnson, noting that integrated play is beneficial for kids on and off the spectrum. "I'm very adamant about not doing that. We're all about inclusion, inclusion, inclusion."