The other night, Alex Lopiccolo’s 4-year-old daughter just wasn’t ready to sleep. After her bedtime story, she got into her swing with her two bunnies and swung for four minutes. That rhythmic, soothing motion did the trick. Within a minute of getting into bed, she was out.
Lopiccolo designs and builds home sensory gyms for kids who need therapeutic movement. His own house, naturally, has a huge gym setup. The kids both have swings in their rooms. Their solarium, dubbed the Sensorimotor Exploration Lab, is basically the world’s most amazing playroom, complete with a zipline, Lycra swings and lots of padded shapes for climbing and cushioned landings. “I live and breathe sensory therapy. So I have over 40 points of suspension in my house,” Lopiccolo says.
Lopiccolo owns Sensory Digest and also works part-time as an occupational therapy assistant at a pediatric clinic. He started designing sensory gyms eight years ago to fill a need he saw.
“I love working as a therapist inside the clinic, but how would you customize a sensory guide if you don’t know what the child’s home environment looks like? Because the environment means everything when you’re talking about sensory processing,” Lopiccolo says.
A home sensory gym might take the form of a bedroom Lycra maze to help kids relax and calm down — the stretchy fabric pulls you into fetal position. Or a super high-level “Ninja Warrior” obstacle course in a modified living room for building better body and spatial awareness. Sensory gyms can help hypermobile kids and those with low muscle tone improve joint stability and posture control. Plus, your family can earn the distinction of having the raddest house for playdates. No huddling over screens here!
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Sensory gyms can help kids improve joint stability and posture control.
A home sensory gym runs from $1,200 to $2,200, depending on how big the client wants to go and the equipment they choose. The package includes design and all the equipment (hardware, safety mats, suspension, swings and Lycra). Lopiccolo customizes each gym to fit the child’s needs and the parents’ budget. The sensory gyms are aimed at kids ages 3 to 15. The swings will hold a 200-pound person, so the whole family can use them.
How do you squeeze a sensory gym into an itty-bitty house? Lopiccolo sometimes installs in a spare bedroom, but he really prefers that people put sensory gyms in their living rooms.
“By having it in the living room, it’s where the majority of kids will play and parents can keep an eye on them,” Lopiccolo says. “Parents can take it up and down super easily. It looks nice on the ceiling; it doesn’t look like a clown factory.”
Lopiccolo, based in Gig Harbor, travels worldwide teaching sensory motor workshops.
“I’m the only one who really does it in the world,” Lopiccolo says. “I really enjoy it, watching kids use it and have fun with it and making it therapeutic.”