If you have a child in elementary school or live near a campus in Victoria, you may have noticed some commotion recently as all 14 sites prepare to install new playground equipment.

The additions, however, are much more than the typical slides and swings. Funded by a grant from Services to Students with Autism, each piece is carefully engineered to allow autistic and other special needs students to play comfortably alongside their neurotypical classmates.

Are you or someone you know on the autism spectrum?

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For many children on the spectrum, the sights, sounds and textures of a traditional playground can prove overwhelming. And staying in from recess isolates them from their peers.

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in every 59 children falls somewhere on the autism spectrum and may require varying degrees of assistance to learn and navigate the school day. VISD estimates it has about 181 students with autism, not including other sensory disorders.

That’s why recent steps by the Victoria school district are so encouraging to see. Two months ago, we wrote about the installation of sensory pathways within the hallways of Torres Elementary School. Educators at that site said the paths were helpful to students of all ages and abilities, from those with diagnosed disabilities to those who just needed the extra focus to better manage their behavior.

The new playground equipment takes this idea one step forward. After all, lessons don’t end at the classroom door. Facilitating an integrated playtime for Victoria’s elementary students means special needs students will get the opportunity to learn from their neurotypical peers and vice versa. More exposure to a variety of abilities has been shown to foster understanding and tolerance – valuable qualities for the next generation of Victoria residents.

We commend VISD officials for the foresight and work it took to apply for and secure this grant. The new playgrounds represent a huge positive step for how the district accommodates its charges. Students, families, staff and Victoria as a whole stand to benefit from this excellent decision.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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