Temple Grandin, an animal scientist and one of the most well-known and accomplished adults with autism, is working with Chattanooga-based Play & Park Structures to develop a line of playground equipment for children with autism.
Grandin, who was included in the "Heroes" section of Time magazine's 2010 listing of the 100 most influential people in the world, visited Signal Centers' accessible playground on Thursday to try a piece of Play & Park Structures equipment called the Swizzler. It looks similar to a baby bathtub and combines the swiveling of a spinner with a circular rocking motion.
The Swizzler was featured in a webinar about playgrounds for children with autism that Grandin co-hosted last summer with Lindsay Hill, senior vice president and group manager for Play & Park Structures.
"That got us talking about a piece of equipment that a teacher made for her when she was a child, and our designers at Play & Park Structures designed a piece of equipment that mimics the one that she enjoyed as a child," Hill said, explaining the origin of the idea for the Temple Grandin line of playground equipment.
The company brought Grandin to Signal Centers, which has a Swizzler at its playground, to try the equipment and offer her feedback. Grandin also traveled to Park & Play Structures' factory in Alabama to see the prototype of the equipment, which the company named the Temple Grandin Trolley Ride.
It's basically a swing seat suspended from a track that goes back and forth and also spins, giving children the feeling of flying, Hill said.
"Our intent is to learn from her about what children or people of all ages with autism would be attracted to or enjoy on a playground so that can continue to influence our design and product development," Hill said.
Among Grandin's observations of the children using the Swizzler was that the children had to cooperate with one another and take turns using it — important skills for children with autism to develop, she said.
"One of the things I'm interested in right now is, I'm seeing too many smart kids that are having problems at school," Grandin said. "One of the worst things the schools ever did is taking out all the hands-on classes — cooking, sewing, art, woodwork, theater, music, welding, fixing cars — because there's a lot of kids who'd be super good at this stuff, but they're not going to be super good at it if they never get exposed to it."
Did you know?
Temple Grandin was portrayed by Claire Danes in the Emmy-winning 2010 HBO film called “Temple Grandin.”
She said one of her passions is getting people with autism who are also really talented into good jobs.
"The thing I've found about engineering things — whether that's playground equipment or just regular factory equipment — a lot of the principals, or people who work on things, are similar," said Grandin, who thinks visually and uses that ability to design equipment for the meat industry. "We need people in industry, visually clever people, who invent things."
The Temple Grandin Trolley Ride, the first piece of equipment in her line with Play & Park Structures, will be available in January, Hill said.
Grandin lives in Colorado and is an advocate for the humane slaughter of livestock.
Contact Emily Crisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.