All posts by Wrts Preston

Special-needs gym opens in suburban Melbourne

A purpose-built gym designed for children with special needs, with customised equipment including slides, swings and ziplines has opened in the Melbourne suburb of Preston.

Equipment in the Australian-first gym, We Rock The Spectrum, a franchise of the USA brand, has been designed by occupational therapists with the aim of aiding the sensory development of children with processing disorders, while providing additional motor skill development.

Local mother, Sally Johnson and master franchisor behind the Preston opening and was inspired to bring the concept to Australia after seeing the benefits first-hand.

She explained “within my own special needs community, I see the desire families have to connect with one another.

“I also see how great families feel when they know their children are benefiting from activities that help them regulate their sensory needs, while having fun.”

Johnson’s son Digby was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD at age two, and the pair struggled to find play centres where he felt included.

After learning about the We Rock The Spectrum model, Johnson traveled to the USA to see the gyms for herself, meeting with founder Dina Kimmel, who shares a familiar story.

Kimmel developed the specialised concept in 2010 after her two year old son, Gabriel was diagnosed with Autism, allowing families with special needs children to engage in sensory-beneficial activities.

Now in its fourth year of franchising, We Rock The Spectrum has over 70 locations across the globe, with the Preston opening marking the third international franchise and first for Australia.

While franchising some sectors of the fitness industry is seen as reaching saturation, the We Rock The Spectrum model caters to a traditionally under-represented market.

According to a recent study from AMAZE, Victoria’s peak body for Autism Spectrum Disorder, only 4% of autistic Australians feel their community knows how to properly support them.

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Mother-of-two, 34, who was left heartbroken after nobody turned up to a little boy’s birthday party is now throwing a giant celebration for ‘lonely’ and bullied children

  • Louise Larkin first heard about Logan Camilleri’s birthday party on the radio
  • His mother had called FOX FM in Melbourne to say no one had turned up
  • Mrs Larkin, 34, was inspired by Logan’s story and put together a public party
  • She is planning the third celebration at the end of March for 1,000 children 

Louise Larkin was driving to work in Melbourne when she heard a little boy’s mother on the radio talking about how no one had showed up to his sixth birthday party.

The 34-year-old was so heartbroken by Logan Camilleri’s story that she decided to throw a celebration for all lonely and isolated children in her community to encourage social inclusion.

Three years later and Mrs Larkin is preparing to host the third ‘Friend In Me’ party at Seaworks Maritime Precinct, Williamstown, with interpreters and ‘sensory rooms’ available for deaf and autistic children.

Her message is simple – no child should be left behind.

Louise Larkin (left) was driving to work in 2016 when she heard Logan Camilleri’s (right) mother on FOX FM radio. Logan has spina bifida, a birth defect resulting in spinal cord problems

Logan (pictured), who has spina bifida, was gifted an incredible birthday party of his own when he turned seven, with radio station FOX FM organising Transformers, celebrities and jumping castles for the young boy

‘I only had my daughter Giselle then [she now has three-month-old Florence too] and I just kept thinking “Imagine if that was my child feeling left out? How would she feel?”,’ she told FEMAIL.

‘It was really sad for his mother as well. So I reached out to my contacts in mother’s groups on Facebook and put together a party for kids in our area. There were 350 people there.

‘We doubled that number last year and hope to reach more than 1,000 people this time around.’

disability support guide we rock the spectrum preston

Australia’s first sensory safe, indoor play gym opens – Disability Support Guide

Australia’s first open to the public, indoor play gym for children with sensory disorders has officially opened its doors in Preston, Melbourne.

For brother-sister business partners and Australian Master Franchisees Sally and Mark Johnson, the opening spelled the beginning of a dream come true.

Drawing inspiration from its installations around the world, We Rock the Spectrum Kids Gyms are a network of sensory safe indoor play spaces, founded by American parent Dina Kimmel.

But now, the gym is on home soil.

Featuring 10 pieces of occupational therapist designed equipment to aid in the physical development of participants, the environment is safe and able to keep children with sensory disorders such as autism, sensory processing disorder and ADHD feel regulated and engaged.

“As well as being a place for play, we will soon be introducing classes and therapy programs into our Preston gym and have office spaces for allied health professionals to consult from the gym.”

Read More Here

We Rock the Spectrum – Australia’s newest all abilities gym for kids – Bubs On The Move

Taking your kids to the park or a play centre poses challenges for many families that others are unaware of. One of my own children struggled with loud noises until he was four. A loud speaker, party whistle, even a busker would make him anxious so we modified where we went and what we did in those first years. Anxiety is something parents of kids who struggle with social skills often experience taking their kids to a playground. I once had a single dad as a patient tell me that he had stopped taking his son with autism to the local playground because any time he went another parent would pick a fight with him about his son’s challenging behaviour. I wish We Rock the Spectrum had been around then because I’m sure it would have become his safe haven.

We Rock the Spectrum is an all abilities children gym that opened this weekend in Melbourne (Preston).  The gym is a safe and fun place space for ALL children.   As we enter We Rock the Spectrum the first thing I notice is a sign that says “Finally a place where you don’t have to say I’m sorry”.  A really simple statement I know, but one that will bring a sigh of relief to parents of special needs kids.  The gym is suitable for children from babies to kids aged 12.    The brilliance of We Rock the Spectrum hinges on a a few key features – overt inclusion of children and families who have kids with special needs, a high children to helper ration – there are many appropriately trained adult staff on hand to assist children use the gym equipment (designed with occupational therapy input) and support parents if challenging behaviours occur.  The presence of a quiet room is a bonus.  Children prone to sensory overstimulation can retreat to a quiet space with low lighting when needed.

Read More Here

sally johnson and her son digby at we rock the spectrum autism friendly gym

Subtle changes make all the difference at play gym designed for children with autism – ABC News AU

Digby, now 7, is on the autism spectrum and finds it hard to deal with the sensory overload he experiences in many public spaces.

“I started to retreat from the community, which was lonely for us but also for him,” Ms Johnson said.

“It was a very difficult time for me because I’m very social.

I thought [parenting] would be much different than it turned out to be, especially in the early days.

Ms Johnson used to dream of a place where her eldest child was understood and where he felt comfortable enough to socialise and play with his younger sister Clementine.

But with no indoor play centres catering to children with autism in Melbourne she had to take things into her own hands.

Together with her brother Marcus, Ms Johnson has just opened Australia’s first indoor play centre designed specifically for children on the autism spectrum.

Read More Here

boy riding zip line sensory gym

Mum of boy with autism launches Australia’s first sensory gym – Brinkwire

Welcome to Australia’s first sensory gym for autistic children – a place where kids like Digby are encouraged to just be themselves.

The gym comes equipped with a zip line for the little ones, plenty of play things and swing sets, all specially designed by occupational therapists.

There’s space for psychologists and speech pathologists, and a “calming room” if kids need a break.

“We wanted to create more of a family feeling, like going to a friend’s place to play.”

It’s all the work of Digby’s mum Sally Johnson.

“When my son was two or three, we were just finding it was more and more isolating not being able to take him to playgrounds because of sensory input issues and other people’s perceptions of his unusual behaviour at times,” the Thornbury mum said.

Read More Here

gym owner and son in kids gym

Haven for fun and inclusion – Herald Sun

When Sally Johnson’s son Digby was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at age two, she was at a loss to find a safe and welcoming place for him to play.

She longed for an affordable, inclusive venue where he could play freely on suitable equipment, and where she could meet families facing similar challenges.

“Digby was severely delayed in many areas of development,” Ms Johnson said.

“In some ways it was a kinder entry into autism. We realised pretty quickly that he wasn’t developing typically.”

Read More Here

Australia's first purpose-built gym for autistic children

Australia’s first purpose-built gym for autistic children – 9 News

With a zip line for the kids, plenty of play things and swing sets, step inside Australia’s first sensory gym for autistic children. All of the equipment has been specially designed by occupational therapists. There’s a Calming Room and facilities for psychologists and speech pathologists. It’s the work of Sally Johnson, whose son, Digby, is autistic.

Watch the segment below!

Who is Rock Boy?

Rock Boy—he’s the mascot of We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym who’s come to symbolize fun and full-inclusion to families all over the world. He adorns every We Rock the Spectrum signage from the storefronts to the walls of our gyms. For kids, his bright red t-shirt, welcoming smile, and rockin’ hands means “It’s playtime!” Rock Boy is every child. But the idea for Rock Boy goes back to one child in particular, back when We Rock the Spectrum was just one gym in Southern California that one loving, warrior mother built for her son.

The concept of Rock Boy, like much of We Rock the Spectrum, comes from a love of family. Rock Boy is modeled after Gabriel Kimmel, the son of our CEO & Founder Dina Kimmel. He is also the inspiration behind We Rock the Spectrum, which grew from a home gym designed just for him.

People often wonder why the name of our gym is “We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym,” with a singular Kid instead of plural. That’s because We Rock the Spectrum was never meant to be the worldwide phenomenon that it’s become today. Back when We Rock the Spectrum first opened in September of 2010, it was solely meant for Gabriel to have a safe space to play and be himself without Dina having to apologize. But interest in the gym grew substantially and Dina realized that there were families out there just like her’s that needed this void filled. Because the need for an inclusive space was so apparent, Dina knew she had to open up more gyms and thus, a franchise was born.

Dina Kimmel and Gabriel

Gabriel was diagnosed with Autism at 2 and a half years old. Before the idea of a sensory gym even occurred in their minds, Dina and her husband Tim looked at each other and said, “What are we going to do?”

Dina’s husband Tim Kimmel works as a sound supervisor for television and movies. Among his most notable works is as the Supervising Sound Editor on the television series Game of Thrones. The two met in the early 2000s at a concert through a mutual friend. Tim was in a rock band at the time and the two quickly bonded over their love for all genres of music. (Fun story: the band that they saw that fateful day ended up playing at their wedding!) Naturally, for the Kimmels, music was a fundamental part of their lives. So together, when the couple was faced with a diagnosis of Autism for their son, in true Kimmel fashion, Dina and Tim said “We’re going to rock the spectrum!”

Dina and Tim Kimmel

Tim Kimmel in his rocker days.

Growing up, the Kimmel children, Gabriel and Sophia had music all around them in the house. Both of them love to sing, dance, and play instruments. For Gabriel who’s on the Spectrum, playing piano helps him tune his fine motor skills and singing and rhythm helps with his stutter.

“When Gabriel engages in music — whether it’s dancing, singing, playing the piano or the clarinet, whatever it may be — his spirit and effervescence shines through so beautifully,” says Dina.
As music constantly filled their lives as children, the image of Rock Boy itself is based on a photo of Gabriel doing the iconic Rock Hands symbol. That photo would later encapsulate everything that We Rock the Spectrum would come to stand for — a child, on the spectrum or otherwise, just having fun.

“That’s how I want every kid to feel when they come into We Rock the Spectrum,” says Dina Kimmel, “like rock stars. Autism doesn’t mean a thing to them. They’re just kids who want to have fun and that’s what we’re all about.”

When Rock Boy was imagined, it was based on Gabriel rockin’ out and being a kid. Today, in capturing that spirit of unabashed freedom and playfulness, the Rock Boy logo has ignited a global movement of inclusiveness that has empowered kids all over the world to let loose and find their inner rock star.

We Rock the Spectrum gym for autistic children set to open in Melbourne – Herald Sun

A franchise of We Rock The Spectrum gyms in the US, the centre is built for children with special needs, with specialised equipment including ziplines, swings and slides.

All equipment is designed by occupational therapists to aid the sensory development of children with processing disorders, and aids motor skill development and sensory processing.

The play centre also has areas for medical practitioners and allied health professionals to work out of, and aims to be a “hub” for families with children with disabilities.

Thornbury mum Sally Johnson will open the gym, which is now under construction, with brother and business partner Marcus, and says the gym will welcome kids of all abilities.

Ms Johnson’s seven-year-old son Digby was diagnosed with autism at age two, and Sally says since then she had struggled to find a place they felt truly included.

“I always wished there was somewhere I didn’t have to be explaining away his behaviour,” she said.

Read full story!

20 Words to Know When Discussing Autism [Vocab]

At We Rock the Spectrum, we serve families from all walks of life. Some are very familiar with the autism community and the language to discuss it, while others are new to it all, and learning. Either way, everyone has to start somewhere, and sharing helpful information about autism spectrum disorder is one of the best ways to spread understanding and awareness. We are the sensory gym for autism and aim to have autism-friendly kids gyms all around the world.

That’s why we’ve put together our own list of important terms that help to understand autism and many of the medical and therapeutic terms associated with it.

Here’s our list of the 20 must-know words about Autism Spectrum Disorder:


This is the repeating of sounds, words, or phrases. People who “echo” may not always be able to communicate effectively or express their own thoughts, but they parrot back what they have heard. If asked a question, they might repeat the question, and not answer the question.


The repetition of words, phrases, intonation, or sounds of the speech of others, sometimes taken from movies, but also sometimes taken from other sources such as favorite books or something someone else has said. Echolalia is sometimes referred to as scripting.


Repeating or persisting with an action or behavior after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased. To perseverate is to become stuck on something and to not be able to mentally shift gears.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy

Applying the principles used for learning and motivation toward social situations or problems of social significance. Therapists use ABA Therapy to teach communication, play, social, academic, and self-care skills to those with autism.

504 Plan

A plan that ensures a student with any disability, physical or mental, will receive accommodations that will help him or her to achieve academic success.

Individualized education program (I.E.P.)

A plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability will receive specialized instruction and related services so he or she may be educated effectively.


A change from one environment or activity to another. Transitions can be hard for a person with autism. It sometimes helps if warnings are given before a transition.


Often mistaken as temper tantrums, meltdowns are common with people who have autism and are typically not anger-infused. Instead, it is the body’s way of reacting to a confusing or over-stimulating situation. Meltdowns can be loud or they can be very quiet.

Stimulatory behavior (Stimming)

Repetitive behavior, such as the spinning of objects, vocal echoes, or other repetitive actions, that people with autism commonly partake in to alleviate the stressors of overstimulation.

Visual schedule

A visual schedule tells a person what to expect next and in what order. People with autism often benefit by knowing what is next as it may be harder for them to transition from one activity to another.


To leave without permission or without letting others know where you are going, and without processing the dangers/risks involved in leaving. Elopement is a great concern in the autism community.


To have detailed knowledge in a specialized field. A small percentage of people with autism are savants. Savants may have many different skills not specific to one field.

Splinter skill

A skill that is stronger than other skills a person has. A person with autism might be able to do one or more things really well but have far less ability in other areas.

Sensory processing disorder (SPD)

A neurological condition that exists when sensory signals are not adequately processed in order to appropriately respond to the demands of the environment. For example, many people with sensory processing disorder are highly sensitive to fabrics and certain food textures.

Vestibular system

Our vestibular system (or sensory system) gives us a awareness of balance and spatial orientation so we can coordinate our movements. People with autism have a harder time managing their movements, such as their walk and gait.


The simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. Many things are often comorbid with autism, including epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Joint attention

A social-communicative skill that’s developed early and includes pointing, sharing interests and following the eye gaze of others. Most children like to say, “Watch me” to others as they play. They point things out in their environment so they are sure others are seeing what they see. Children with autism often participate in little or no joint attention.


The rhythm and melody of spoken language. Prosody is shown in the rate, pitch, stress, inflection, and intonation used in our speech. People with autism have a harder time with intonation, and can often be more monotone or speak in a singing voice.

Discrete trial

A structured way of teaching in simple steps. A task is broken down and taught in steps and then built back up to the entire task. Discrete trial is used in ABA therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

A type of psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought about the self and the world are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns or treat mood disorders such as depression. People with autism struggle with anxiety and depression alike. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to help reduce these feelings and behaviors associated with them by working to adjust thoughts and perceptions.

With this new knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to help the people in your life who have autism, or a relative with autism. As you may well know from helping a child with autism navigate the world, knowing the words for something you’re experiencing can make a huge difference.

At We Rock the Spectrum, our gym owners create a playground space that speaks the language of autism – but we also speak the language of fun!

Want to be a resource for people with autism and families with autistic children in your community? Contact us about opening your own We Rock the Spectrum franchise.