TEWKSBURY — When Jen and Joe Falcone sought out places to take their son that would be safe and enjoyable, they found their options limited.
“Our son is autistic but our other children are typical kids,” said Joe Falcone. “We were always searching for a place where the whole family could be together, have fun, and be safe.”
Blue Wave is the brainchild of Jen Falcone. A physical therapist by training, Jen was looking for a way to help her son, and other families in their same situation. Through discussions with their son’s school and other networks, she realized that opening a center that was sensory focused and safe would be a possible answer.
Housed in the space connected to the Breakaway hockey rink, Blue Wave has transformed former racquetball courts into themed activity areas. Soft padding on the walls and cushioned artificial turf flooring means that visitors are safe, even if they have a meltdown or a tough day.
What parent can’t relate to that? There is an art studio, quiet room, and even a yoga studio in addition to an obstacle course, basketball hoop and other sports equipment.
“If you ever told me my son would enjoy yoga, I would have thought you were crazy” said Joe, “but he loves it!”
The center has a trained instructor and is staffed with folks who are familiar with the needs of those who use the center, and their supports, whether family members or school staff. The activity areas are organized in a “Main Street” manner such that a visitor could stroll and find things that interest them.
Joe Falcone said, “we are always watching how people use the space and taking feedback.”
The center just opened in January and Joe Falcone is excited to have both indoor and outdoor facilities for visitors. Using the turf field, which used to be under the giant dome on Carter Street, will be a plus for informally organized games or other activities. Blue Wave also employs a team of people from the vocational programs at Class, Inc. in an effort to continue the benefits for people with cognitive impairments.
There is a real theme of acceptance and understanding at the center. Joe Falcone described the birthday party they hold once a month.
“Often kids with autism don’t have a lot of friends, and don’t get invited to many birthday parties,” he said. “We have a birthday party and anyone can come,” so everyone can have the experience and feel included.
Additional activities include music therapy, open gym time, and social skills. Many classes are for teens, a traditionally tricky group to engage. A caregiver or parent must accompany the visitor, and Blue Wave has become a favorite for adult day care groups, school groups, individuals and meetups.
There are even classes just for the caregivers, such as restorative yoga. The Falcones are excited to welcome families to stop by and learn about their offerings.
As Joe Falcone said, “we know there are lots of families just like ours out there.”