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Australian-first special needs gym to expand nationally

Less than one year after launching in Australia, specialised gym franchise We Rock the Spectrum is making good on its promise to help special needs children across the country.

At the brand’s inaugural Team Australia conference, We Rock the Spectrum welcomed four new owners to the mix. The new operators will steer expansion across New South Wales and Victoria, with all gyms expected to open before year’s end.

The purpose-built centres incorporate specialised equipment such as slides, swings and zip-lines. All activities are aimed at aiding sensory and motor-skill development of children with processing disorders.

Sally Johnson is the Australian master franchisee who launched the model last year. The Victorian mum said the community support she has received has been truly inspiring.

“We’ve been so thrilled first off from a base level with the support from the local community with all of the things that we had hoped would happen in our single gym,” Johnson told Inside Franchise Business.

“We have a great mix of mainstream families and families with a special needs child. It’s been fantastic to see them learning from each other.”

Johnson revealed that since the Preston gym opened, she had been inundated with franchise enquiries.

“We had close to 200 enquiries come in. Nobody expected that, and what’s more, they were all amazing quality,” she said.

“They are coming from far-away places as well, perfectly positioned around the country. From Katherine to Margaret River, not places we’d put on our map.”

We Rock the Spectrum expansion

The latest four signings see We Rock the Spectrum unveil three sites in Victoria, at Geelong, Ringwood and Darebin, with New South Wales expansion in Wollongong and Western Sydney to follow.

“These were chosen as the initial round for a number of reasons, namely as they were people who stood out as ready to go, but also because they were in territories we knew would be successful and that had a real need,” Johnson said.

Johnson herself knows the importance of community programs and specialised businesses like this. Her son Digby was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD at age two, and she revealed a number of the new owners shared similar stories.

“We’ve seen interest from other families to open in their local communities. To be able to join with other passionate families who have their own history or experience in the sector has been really successful already,” she said.

Dina Kimmel, We Rock the Spectrum founder was there at the Team Australia conference and said she was humbled to see the impact her business had made on the Australian public.

“We have already boarded four new owners, we weren’t expecting to open past two, so it’s been a tremendous response,” Kimmel said.

“At the end of the day, I am simply a wife and mother of a child with autism who was inspired to create this model because we had nowhere else to go. Just talking to all of customers and the community both here and overseas is just gratifying beyond belief.”

The We Rock the Spectrum story

The We Rock the Spectrum story is remarkable one. Kimmel’s son Gabriel was diagnosed with autism at age two, prompting her to reassess her professional career.

“When you receive that diagnosis, like I did with my son Gabriel, I’ve never felt so lonely in my life,” Kimmel said.

“I just wanted to do anything and everything for my son, and I was seeking a community that didn’t exist five to ten years ago. The first We Rock the Spectrum gym was actually created in my home, and after seeing miracles happen with Gabriel and my daughter, who is not special needs, in terms of inclusion, I thought ‘there’s got to be more families out there who need this as well’.”

She was right. Within ten years We Rock the Spectrum has grown from one home-based gym to a network of over 80 locations worldwide.

International growth

Aside from its enormous presence in California and Florida, We Rock the Spectrum has also launched gyms in both Dubai and Canada over the last 12 months.

Kimmel revealed that further discussions are in the works for Saudi Arabia, with Malaysian and Singaporean growth expected to come this year.

“It’s an awesome thing that happens when you do something meaningful, you see a growth and it’s organic,” Kimmel said.

“It isn’t about growing too quickly or expanding rapidly, we really try and control that growth, and we’ve found that adding two countries per year works best.”

Australian focus

While international growth is certainly on the cards, for now the focus is firmly on Aussie expansion. Johnson revealed that the brand is likely to surpass its original target of 30 to 35 Australian gyms.

“Now just seeing the level of interest, not just from prospective owners but from regions, local councils and politicians saying ‘how can we help?’, I’m beginning to think that may have been conservative,” she joked.

The ‘mumpreneur’ believes that if the latest interest is anything to go by, We Rock the Spectrum will go a long way in achieving its business and cultural goals.

“We had a few tears over the weekend, not just appreciating the hard work that’s already paying off, but also the shift in the world that we’re a small part in creating. It’s heart-warming as a parent, not just as a business owner.”

Do you have a passion for working with children too? Take a look at these great franchising opportunities.

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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.

For more information www.werockthespectrumkidsgym.com and www.werockthespectrumaustralia.com/

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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