Nicholas swings on We Rock the Spectrum’s zip line. Raechel Dawson/staff photo

No need for parents to say ‘I’m sorry’ at new sensory gym in Bellevue

A little boy sat on the gym floor, crying.

He continued to have what his mother, co-owner of We Rock the Spectrum, called a “meltdown” as her co-worker tried to figure out what was ailing him.

Ten minutes later, he was calm, reading a book in a special room called the Quiet Room.

The squishy blue floor, trampoline, zip line and specialty rooms meant to engage children with autism are all part of Bellevue’s new sensory gym that opened June 10. The gym is specially designed for sensory engagement, fun and self-care and is part of an international franchise that was started in California.

“The company motto is, ‘A place where you don’t have to say I’m sorry’,” co-owner Shirley Sarmiento-Blaha said. “We will not judge you.”

Kirkland residents Sarmiento-Blaha and her husband Martin stumbled upon We Rock the Spectrum after years of searching for an inclusive environment for their twin boys who were diagnosed with autism at 2 years old. Now 6 years old, Dominik and Daniel had been to various kids’ gyms but Sarmiento-Blaha said it kept getting harder and harder for them. She suspects they experienced noise overload, and the crowded atmosphere affected their ability to join in and make friends.

Sometimes her boys would have trouble following the rules as other children did. Sometimes the couple just wanted a place where they didn’t have to feel anxious or worried about a future temper tantrum.

Their needs were echoed during their first Autism Speaks Walk in Seattle. With a little planning, the Sarmiento-Blahas found a space at 1910 132nd Ave. NE, Ste. 7.

In addition to the sensory gym, which welcomes all children, We Rock the Spectrum offers private therapy classes and options for birthday parties. Children ages “infant on up” are welcome to play for about $12 a visit and $10 for siblings.

“Our goal is to make people aware that we have a sensory gym for everybody, not just special needs,” Sarmiento-Blaha said. “It’s for all.”

Another goal is to hire more teachers and employees.

The gym also offers parents a break for up to three hours. The respite care system allows parents to grab a cup of coffee, attend to another child’s need or simply have a break for $12 an hour.

Sarmiento-Blaha estimates their gym has seen nearly 200 children and families since they’ve been open but only has a handful of regular members, which allows a family of three children or less to come to the gym as often as they’d like for $175 each month.

“[Families] should come here so they can also feel like there’s a community, they’re not alone,” Sarmiento-Blaha said. “We are here for each other.”

For more information on We Rock the Spectrum in Bellevue, visit www.werockthespectrumeastsideseattle.com

Co-owner of the Bellevue We Rock the Spectrum, Shirley Sarmiento-Blaha, stands in front of the gym’s rock wall. Raechel Dawson/staff photo

An employee reads Sarmiento-Blaha’s son a story to calm him down from his “meltdown.” Raechel Dawson/staff photo

Nicholas launches from the gym’s slide to jet across the room on a zip line. Raechel Dawson/staff photo

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