How to be Inclusive to All Abilities

Playgrounds ought to be inclusive of everyone, regardless of ability. Beyond simply providing a means for physical accessibility to all, the principle of inclusion goes further in creating a space that can be fully utilized by all. At Heritage Village Park, we desire to emphasize the friendship building and social skills of everyone who plays here, especially those who have special needs. 

All children have their own profiles of strengths and abilities. While some are working hard on academic skills or learning to play an instrument, others are working hard on communication (e.g., learning how to have a back-and-forth conversation) and learning how to play with others (i.e., play pretend and maintain friendships). These two core features, social communication and reciprocal interaction, are difficult for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In Minnesota, 1 in 42 school-aged children have a diagnosis of autism; therefore, it is important now more than ever to learn how to be an ambassador for friendship and acceptance of kids of all abilities. What do kids with special needs, such as autism, want? To be included and accepted, just like everyone else.

Maybe it's uncomfortable, but please don't ignore or avoid anyone who may be "different".

Below are a few tips to keep in mind that a friend with autism may want you to know. By putting these tips into practice, we are confident that everyone can be more understanding and inclusive.

  • Invite and include your friend to join you and other friends in games and activities.Your friend may want to be included but may not know how to ask or may not understand the rules. 
  • Accept your friend’s unexpected behaviors, even if they surprise you. We all have traits that make us different. Please don't laugh.
  • Hang out and see what he or she likes to talk about or do. It is easier to get to know someone when you share an activity or special interest.
  • Understand that sometimes your friend may want to play alone or may be so focused on a specific game or topic, it might be difficult to get and keep his or her attention. Just because they’re not looking you in the eye, doesn't mean they are not listening.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A good friend is understanding, and it is OK to talk to your friend (or their parent) if you don’t understand the way they act.
  • Speak clearly - You may need to use shorter sentences and fewer words to help them understand.
  • Be patient - Sometimes your friend needs extra thinking time to share their thoughts with you. It may also take them longer to learn the rules of new games.
  • Look for sensory sensitivity - Your friend with autism may sometimes feel overwhelmed by crowds, noise, smells, bright lights or busy activities. If you notice your friend acting differently, he or she might need a break.
  • Take a stand - If you see someone teasing, making fun of or bullying someone, let them know that is not cool or kind. It is OK to tell an adult if someone is being hurt or teased because of their differences.
  • Be an Ambassador for Acceptance of All Abilities - A friend with autism is a person looking to be valued and accepted, just like you! Be a good human and model being a friend to everyone.


"Inclusive playgrounds allow individuals of various abilities (caregivers and children alike) to grow and play in an environment that meets their needs. We love the idea of an inclusive playground as it lets all kids move, explore, and have fun with others!"

-Therapy OPS, Inver Grove Heights


"Having an inclusion playground would mean kids are exposed to more diversity and abilities at an earlier age, allowing children a better understanding of the world and environment around them. Setting all children up to succeed."

-Heidi Allard, Speech and Language Pathologist

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