The bouncy jump-off stairs, the soft and super-strong blanket swing, the bright lime rollers — Life Works' new sensory play area has all the enticements typical children crave.
Some of the kids here are not typical, however. And every shape and surface is designed to reach them as they are, and as they need.
"It's for children who have 'Sensory Processing Disorder' (SPD), " said Lacey Cairns, an AmeriCorps employee at Life Works and the mother of an autistic child and two others with sensory disorders.
"They don't regulate their sensory systems well," Cairns said.
According to research on SPD, such children are born with a hyper-sensitivity to touch, noise, light, taste or smell.
They may crave movement and thus are easily distracted and fidgety. They may avoid physical contact or lack control or their own touching, using too much pressure or striking out.
Others with SPD hate the feel of certain clothing or the textures of foods. They resist cuddling and cannot calm themselves.
Kids with SPD often have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorders or autism, Cairns said.
"They may be over-stimulated or under-stimulated," she said. "The equipment here helps them regulate their sensory system."
Life Works, which helps the disabled find work, housing and involvement, joined with Arc of Southwest Washington to purchase the special SPD equipment and start free play groups in the community room at Life Works' location in Longview.
All families with all types of kids are welcome, Cairns said, as long as they call to schedule a weekday time.
"It's not a day care — a parent has to come along," she said. " I'll do a little orientation if they're not familiar with the equipment."
Last week in the play area, a half dozen children reveled in the colorful, stimulating room.
Olivia Bailey pulled big, smooth, wooden beads along a thick rope.
Lucy Smith, whose mother Stacie Smith is the family resources coordinator at Progress Center, pushed her whole body, head first, through a roller — a padded wringer like old-time washing machines had.
"You can change the pressure on the roller," Stacie Smith said. "They love this."
Tough foam stairs, covered in boldly colored vinyl, are perfect for running up and down or leaping off of into a 6-foot round bean bag oasis. The enveloping cushion later becomes a haven for a little guy to cuddle with his mom and a story book.
A huge, velvety sling hangs from a hook solidly embedded in a roof beam. Children of any size love to be enveloped in that blanket and swing languidly inside.
It looks like those old illustrations of delivery by stork.
Several sizes of hard rubber disks, with different shapes of bumps and indentations, dot the floor to massage little feet as they hop onto them.
Cush balls, with their strangely pleasing slippery spikes, can be safely tossed or turned inside out. Big and small exercise balls are scattered here and there, and a six-sided, kids'-height wooden table has games on every side.
It's fun stuff. Backed by science.
The equipment here is "proprioceptive," said Smith, a term used in occupational therapy. It describes objects designed to help regulate the movement of the head and body, to provide deep pressure to joints or shift weight in therapeutic ways.
Cairns pointed out how a second swing, a square with four ropes attached to one hook up high, can swing in many different directions.
"It can go side to side," she said. "It's more calming."
There are shelves of picture books and a library with handouts for parents, great big jig saw puzzles, a soft and sparkley cylinder that vibrates, giant covered blocks to make a house or a fort.
Children find all kinds of things at home and outdoors that do what these toys do, Smith said. "Kids naturally gravitate to swinging and rough housing. But some kids don't. They need this place.
"We're seeing more kids with sensory disorders," she said. "It's a puzzle. ... But they will find what they crave here. ... These toys are different, and they're all in one place here." SPD equipment "can help them calm down, attend, focus and learn."
"We're all sensory people," said Sally Bartlett of The Arc of Southwest Washington, the umbrella advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. "And we all suffer from sensory overload.
"It's when it affects our daily lives or our learning that we need intervention."
The Life Works community room is used for meetings as well as play groups, which is why parents who want to bring children need to contact Cairns, who sets up the calendar.
Bartlett said the sensory room "also provides a place for parents to meet and connect. We've found that a play group is a better fit than a support group."
Jordan Carlson of Kalama, who brought her 2 1/2-year-old son Trevor to the play room for a few hours of play, called it a "great resource. We don't have all this at home. I love the opportunities here for motor activity."
Carlson said Trevor would choose to be read to all day if she let him, "so I set up an obstacle course at home, and when he's finished, we read."