Best playgrounds for kids with autism who are runners

We are thrilled to announce the launch of Indy’s Special Child magazine, a limited edition publication dedicated to the families of children with special needs. In it you’ll find helpful information and resources for your family, including the article below:

“Best playgrounds for kids with autism who are runners.” 



Every parent has felt it, that moment of panic when you lose sight of your child on a busy playground. Maybe you were helping their sibling or talking to a friend, but when you look up, your child isn’t where you expected them to be.

It’s a common scenario, but one that can be especially nerve-wracking for parents of those children with autism who have the tendency to dart off when they feel overwhelmed, upset or uninterested.

“Sensory or behavioral issues are most often why children escape. They may get overwhelmed by the noise, crowds, bright sun and hot temperatures, or a child may wander away to find a preferred item or preferred activity,” says Barb Fogarty, Research Associate and Educational Consultant at the Indiana Resource Center for Autism at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University. “Our children can get very focused on something, like ‘Grandma has a pool, and I want to go swimming,’ so they run off to try to find it.”

SEE THIS ARTICLE COME TO LIFE: See video from our visit to IndyStyle to discuss best playgrounds for kids with autism who are runners is here.

Having a child who has a history of taking off can make it difficult to find safe, secure places to play outside. Even with the most intense supervision, playgrounds near water and busy roads can pose safety risks, and the prospect of watching that child along with another sibling is enough to make anyone just stay home.

Fortunately, the Indianapolis area is home to a handful of play spaces that address this scenario by being either fully fenced or fenced with limited openings.

Play spaces that are fully fenced with a gate 

Colts Playground at the Children’s Bureau Rachel Glick Courage Center

Playgrounds for Kids with Autism _ Indy's Child
2115 Central Ave, Indianapolis
This is a newer playground on the near-north side of downtown designed in partnership with the Colts. The space is about the size of a city lot and features a tall fence and gate, along with innovative play equipment, a basketball court and exercise stations. Parking is on the street. Be advised that no bathrooms are on site.


Shawn Grove Park
Alabama and 14th Streets, Indianapolis
This cute Old Northside neighborhood park features a fully fenced playground with latching gate with swings and a small play structure for younger kids. There is a larger play structure in the same park, but it’s not fenced. Parking is on the street. No bathrooms are on site.

Westminster Neighborhood Services Children & Youth Education Center
445 N. State Ave, Indianapolis
In the Holy Cross neighborhood on Indy’s near-east side, this youth center features two fully fenced playgrounds with gates. One is newer with lots of climbing options, and the other includes an older play structure, swings and more shade. Parking is on the street. No bathrooms on site.

Other fully fenced playground options include outdoor malls.  Both Clay Terrace and Hamilton Town Center have small but fully fenced play spaces. Fast food restaurants, like McDonald’s in Mooresville, provide another option.

ANOTHER HELPFUL ARTICLE: A guide to the best indoor playgrounds in Indianapolis

Play spaces that are mostly enclosed 

Herron-Morton Place Historic Park

Playgrounds for Kids with Autism _ Indy's Child1927 N. Alabama St, Indianapolis
This spacious neighborhood park is completely fenced except for the entrance. It features swings, a medium-sized play structure with big slides and plenty of green space, complete with shade and picnic tables. Parking is on the street. Bathrooms are typically just for events, but ask around to see if anyone has a key.

Holliday Park

Playgrounds for Kids with Autism _ Indy's Child
Photo credits: Indy Parks and Recreation. Thank you, friends!

6363 Spring Mill Road, Indianapolis
The toddler area of this big playground is right in the center and fully fenced except for one opening. There’s a lot to keep kids busy in the space, but if you think your child would be too distracted by the bigger equipment in nearby non-fenced areas, skip this spot (steep hiking trails down to the White River border the play area). Parking is available in their lot and bathrooms are located in the nearby nature center.

Other mostly enclosed options include two outside the Indy area: Williams Park in Brownsburg (940 S. Locust Lane) and Ellis Park in Danville (600 E Main St.). Both feature old-school wooden playgrounds surrounded by low fences with minimal openings in the front.

Still looking for a safe place to play? Check out area schools and churches, which often feature playgrounds that are at least partially fenced. While school playgrounds are typically open when classes aren’t in session, before heading to a church playground, call ahead to ask if you can play there.

With a little advance planning to find the playground that best suits your child’s needs, a fun and safe experience can be had for everyone.

Maggie Loiselle - Indy's Child MagazineAbout Maggie:

Maggie Loiselle spent 10 years as a writer, producer and web editor in television news before making the switch to freelance writing in order to stay home with her young son. She is a Michigan native and a graduate of Butler University. Maggie lives in downtown Indianapolis with her husband and son.

Watch for more of Maggie’s work in upcoming issues of Indy’s Child ParentingCincinnati Parent and Dayton Parent Magazines.

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