Sterling Gym Designed with Autism in Mind

Having a child with autism can be isolating. Their sensory processing disorder can make a trip to a noisy playground or crowded indoor gym more daunting than fun.

Anjali and Manish Gulati, a Lansdowne couple, searched the DC metro area for years for a place that would provide their son a safe space to be himself while playing on sensory-safe equipment.

“We looked and looked for a place where he could play, practice gross motor skills and find community—and we were willing to drive,” Anjali Gulati said. “We couldn’t find anything.”

A couple of years ago, she stumbled upon a website for We Rock the Spectrum, a franchise of gyms specially designed for kids with autism, special needs and neurotypical development.

“It was perfect. This has been my dream, and they offer the support I need to do it,” Gulati said.

This week, the Gulati family is opening We Rock the Spectrum gym in Sterling. The grand opening celebration is planned for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the new gym, at 22446 Davis Drive, Suite 127.

The first floor of the space has been transformed into a sensory-based gym, with several swings, including a cocoon swing, a climbing wall, a trampoline and a 40-foot zip line that encourages kids to hold on tight and then drop into a soft crash pad. The equipment is designed to help children work on their fine motor skills and upper-body strength, while helping them curb their vestibular sensations and sensory feedback.

The second floor, designed with teens in mind, features a ping-pong table, dart board, and couches and tables where young people can play board games, meet with a tutor, or just hangout.

“You’ll notice there are no screens,” Anjali Gulati said. “All of the activities encourage them to interact with other kids and socialize.”

Another large room can be reserved for birthday parties or other special events. Anjali Gulati said outdoor groups are already talking about holding modified yoga and Zumba classes there, and the gym is also partnering with an occupational therapist to put on a social skills class for kids.

With George Washington University’s Ashburn campus delving into cutting-edge autism research, Loudoun is becoming a destination for families with children with autism. And Gulati wants the We Rock the Spectrum to be another piece of that puzzle.

“My goal is to work with all groups in the community toward the same mission of supporting families with special-needs students,” she said. “I like to think of this place as a community resource.”

The gym will double as a resource center and community center for families. Having a child with a special need can be isolating, Gulati said, and she envisions the gym being a one-stop-shop for parents and their children where they can find recommendations for therapists, pediatricians and other supports.

Kushal Gulati, a 13-year-old with autism, was the inspiration for his parents to open We Rock the Spectrum. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
There’s little doubt that there is demand for a gym like this in the area. Just in Loudoun County, about 2,000 public school students receive services for autism. The Gulatis have already received calls—as well as in-person visits—from families throughout Loudoun and others living in Fairfax and Prince William counties eager for We Rock the Spectrum to open. A family from Quantico, a 45-mile drive, has already reserved space for a birthday party there Sunday.

“There is a huge need for parents of kids with autism and other special needs to connect to other parents, and they want their children to connect with other children,” Gulati said.

The Gulatis’ two children, 13-year-old Kushal and 5-year-old Shraiya, are certainly enjoying it. They’ve been testing out the equipment all month ahead of Saturday’s opening day.

“I think it’s great. I would’ve liked something like this,” Kushal said. He encouraged other kids on the spectrum, like himself, to check it out. “They might enjoy coming and playing without anyone yelling at them. They can just be themselves.”

We Rock the Spectrum offers open play daily at $14 per child for up to three hours; siblings are discounted for $12 per child; and monthly memberships are available at a discount. Families can also book the entire gym for private events. The gym also hosts field trips, classes and other special events.

Learn more at werockthespectrumloudoun.com.

From left, Shraiya, Manish, Anjali and Kushal Gulati take a break from prepping We Rock the Spectrum for opening day Saturday to take a photo. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
dnadler@loudounnow.com
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