PATERSON, N.J. — As we continue to celebrate Autism Awareness Month, Paterson, New Jersey officials are breaking ground to revitalize the Lou Costello Park.
As the weather gets warmer and days grow longer, families look to safe places for children to play outdoors. The neglected park, named after the legendary actor and Paterson native, will be transformed into a safe space for children with autism.
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh says it’s a proud moment for the community.
“The playground will accommodate everyone but there will be certain items that will help with symbols and sensory, anything that can accommodate children with special needs,” he tells PIX11 News.
The $1.2 million renovation was made possible by federal grants and will include a new playground. The gazebo, once a haven for the homeless, will be replaced with a new stage in honor of Costello’s love for the arts. Lights will be installed, and trees planted.
It’s a perfect oasis for kids in the neighborhood, including autistic students who attend School 2, just a stone’s throw away.
Arianna Esposito is the Director of lifespan services and sports for Autism Speaks. She says it’s important for kids with autism to feel like the park is created with them in mind.
Esposito says that children diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder is really a spectrum of conditions that affect each person with autism differently. It affects communication, social interaction, restrictive or repetitive interests or behaviors. Therefore, it’s vital for park to include features to accommodate them.
“Having a lot of pictures, so that it’s easier for some to navigate and understand what the picture is. Then having to navigate words on a slide, and taking into account the variety of different sensory needs or preferences,” she explains.
In 2020, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to 2016 data. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.
At time when children are dealing with isolation because of the pandemic, having a place to explore will have a positive impact. The redesign is slated to be completed in six months.