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story.lead_photo.caption Julia Bullock, founder of Aspie Awesome of Arkansas, stands with some of the equipment in the gym that has been donated by Corps Athletics for her nonprofit’s sensory gym. The gym will provide a place for kids and adults with Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism to play in a safe environment. - Photo by Angela Spencer

— Trampoline parks are all the rage, and working out is important, but what happens when a child — or an adult — is overstimulated by these kinds of facilities?

A nonprofit based in Searcy is working to create a safe space for those with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism to get out and get active.

“We started out as an advocacy group for parents with kids with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism,” said Julia Bullock, founder of Aspie Awesome of Arkansas.

Aspie Awesome was born out of the needs Bullock saw in her own family. Her daughter, Natalie, was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2016. Since the diagnosis, Bullock has wanted to make sure those with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism had support and that their caregivers had people to talk to as well.

“I started the group so the parents had a group of people they could talk to,” she said.

The organization provides emotional and educational support for families, friends and caregivers for those who are affected by Asperger’s or high-functioning autism.

Bullock said it can be hard to find that support when a child is high-functioning. The child’s condition may not be immediately apparent, but Asperger’s and autism provide their own unique challenges.

“One of the hardest things about raising a kid that is high-functioning is that they get overlooked,” Bullock said. “I just want to raise awareness about these kids and provide support for those parents.”

Aspie Awesome has a private Facebook group for those parents so they can talk to each other, find out what is working for other families and otherwise support one another.

The group also has monthly meetings where kids and adults with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism can learn life skills.

“The guys and gals from the Harding University speech therapy department do a life-skills class with them,” Bullock said. “It has been really great.”

Meanwhile, the parents and caregivers are able to meet and talk through the wins and struggles they have faced.

One struggle Bullock started to hear more and more about was the need for a safe place for kids and adults to be active. This need was affecting entire families, as siblings couldn’t participate in certain activity areas without their brother or sister with Asperger’s or autism being overstimulated at the gym.

“I had several parents who told me they don’t have a place for their kids, and the siblings can’t do anything, either, because they can’t go to places like the trampoline gym.”

In order to meet that need, Aspie Awesome is raising funds to build a sensory gym where families can play without being overstimulated, along with an area for adults with sensory-sensitive conditions to work out.

“We’re working right now on raising funds for the gym,” Bullock said. “We’ve had fundraisers, and we have a quiet room that has been fully funded.”

The fundraisers, including car washes and an art show, have been successful, but Bullock still needs to raise quite a bit to get the gym finished, she said.

“We’ve teamed up with Corps Athletics. They’ve given us a gym,” Bullock said. “Now we need sponsors.”

Bullock said one of her goals is to keep the cost down for gym usage, around $10 for two hours per person. As a parent whose child has Asperger’s, she knows that medication and supplies can be incredibly expensive.

“And it’s all out of pocket,” she said. “That’s why I want to keep the price of the gym low for our families.”

Right now, Bullock hopes for donations to get the gym finished. She said she recently tried to apply for a grant that didn’t end up working out, but she has faith that everything will come together.

For more information on Aspie Awesome — including how to donate to the gym or get involved as a parent — email aspieawesomesearcy@gmail.com or visit aspieawesome.com. Aspie Awesome also has a Facebook page where people can keep up with the organization and what it is doing.

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