TMP’s Kayla Harris Co-Authors Article on Developing Inclusive Playgrounds

Kayla Harris headshotPlaygrounds are more than just fun. They are also spaces that are critical to a child’s development in their formative years, and our designers at TMP understand this. Our own Interior Designer, Kayla Harris, delves into this topic in an article she co-authored, “Developing Inclusive Playgrounds That Welcome All Children – Including Those with Autism”, in the Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 

In the fall of 2021 at CMU, Harris was completing research on how to design best for both children with autism and elderly with Alzheimer’s. Her professor Jeanneane Wood-Nartker asked Harris and her classmate Paige Rosinski to complete research and a literature review with her. They picked the topic of Designing Outdoor Playgrounds for Children with Autism. They chose this topic because they saw a gap in knowledge published on the subject and wanted to contribute to the body of research that is available to those interested.  

Harris says that being educated in designing inclusive and accessible spaces is very critical in our line of work. She explains, “We are creating spaces that the public will dwell and engage in, so those spaces must be welcoming for whoever comes in contact. Outdoor play is formative to a child’s development. Instilling confidence, learning communication, and improving brain development are some examples of positive outcomes from play. The information learned while engaged in play can then scaffold across their daily lives. Play deprivation contributes to loneliness and social isolation, the inability to read social cues, depression, and aggression. 

Research has shown that children with disabilities often feel excluded from engaging in outdoor play due to barriers like the built environment. Knowing this, it so important to design outdoor playgrounds accessibly and inclusively so that any child is encouraged to engage in the highest quality of play.”

Harris thinks Vogel’s principles are the largest takeaway from the literature review. The principles being: flexible and adaptable, non-threatening, non-distracting, predictable, controllable, sensory-motor attuned, safe, and non-institutional. When designing all spaces, these principles should be considered pillars to drive all design decisions. When Harris, Rosinski, Wood-Nartker, and Renirie reviewed an outdoor playground in the Child Learning Lab on the campus of Central Michigan University, they observed the design through the lens of those suggested principles and sought how the playground could be improved and where the design excelled. 

The abstract of their published article states, “Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) require additional support that caters to their sensory and social needs. A systematic literature review identified design characteristics to transform a play space into an environment where physical, social, and personal growth for children of varying abilities is encouraged. To model these recommendations, an examination of a playground was conducted with suggestions adapted to develop an accessible play environment. Results showed that there is a need for outdoor play spaces that engage children in building and maintaining relationships with peers. Providing equitable access to play allows people to come together due to a shared need for connectivity.” 

TMP professionals are lifelong learners, and we’re proud that they truly believe in pushing the average and improving spaces for everyone. Harris adds, “Co-Authoring this literature review was such an educational and rewarding process and I am so excited that others will be able to learn how to include all children when designing their future playgrounds.” Congratulations!