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Playground at Virginia Institute of Autism a Success - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Playground at Virginia Institute of Autism a Success

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The playground cost almost $100,000. The playground cost almost $100,000.

A new addition to the Virginia Institute of Autism is giving students reasons to play and giving them more motivation to do their work. The Virginia Institute of Autism hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new playground at 10 a.m. Friday. 

Proceeds from Charlottesville Restaurant Week earlier this year, and donations from other individuals and businesses have gone toward a new playground at VIA. It's now finished and it's getting both students and teachers excited.

The school has been at its current site since 2001. Most of the playground equipment was donated and it had worn over the years.

"The equipment was just really weathered," said Rorie Hutter, the director of education at VIA.  "As we got older, students didn't have equipment that they enjoyed playing on," she said.

Even the younger students were less than excited about playing outside. "We found more and more kids wanted to play on the iPad versus coming out to the playground," Hutter said.

The playground cost almost $100,000 - $9,000 of that came from Restaurant Week. Panera Bread donated $6,000, and the rest came from the Perry Foundation, Bama Works and individual donors.

Administrators, teachers, and students agree, it's well worth the price. Now, students actually ask to go play.

Kevin Parr is a student at the VIA. Once the new playground was in place, he began asking to go all the time.

"For Kevin, he was really focused when we didn't have a playground that it was broken. When the playground came back he was so excited and all he wanted to do was work to earn going to the playground," said his instructor Sarah Davidson.

Davidson uses Kevin's excitement to go and play as motivation for him. She gives him tokens for completing his work.

"What are we earning new tokens for?" she asked him. "The playground!" said Kevin. "The playground! That's right man!" Davidson said in return.

Since using the new playground as an incentive to get things done, Davidson said she's seen improvement in Kevin's skills, both with classroom studies and with training him to ask to use the bathroom.

"I've definitely seen an increase in his independent language and his independent talking to staff and talking to other students as well," she said.

The playground is built with autistic children in mind. There are straps on some of the swings for added security, and the students use important motor skills while running, sliding, and climbing. There are also lots of chances to interact with others.

"Since we focus so much on social skills and play skills here we needed to have an environment where they could interact with each other more and actually enjoy being out here," Hutter said.

Many parts of the playground involves equipment that would allow for turn-taking activities. "Which just gives them opportunities to initiate to each other and ask each other to play," Hutter said.

There are also all types of language opportunities that can be taught during time at the new playground. Teachers ask students to label different activities, like "jump," "slide," and "climb." They can also learn prepositions like "up the ramp," "down the ramp," "up the slide," and "down the slide," and even past tense like "I kicked the ball."

Almost immediately, this playground became special to Kevin. "Honestly, I had tears in my eyes the first time we had all the kids out here on the playground and I saw his face just light up," Davidson said.

It's special to the other students and the teachers as well. "It's wonderful to finally have a place for the kids to do so much learning out here," Davidson said.

For more information, click here.

To watch video of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, click on the video above. 

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