Tri-Cities kids with disabilities try inclusive play in space transformed by Wishing Star
Kids with disabilities in Tri-Cities have an all-inclusive play option catered to their needs following a wish-granting from the Wishing Star Foundation over the first weekend in May.
The foundation completely redid one family’s backyard, transforming it into a play area specifically designed for their disabled daughter and her friends.
The backyard makeover was revealed to Finnley Couchman, a 4-year-old in Richland who is part of the foundation and its wish granting program, similar to Make A Wish.
The Wishing Star Foundation serves children in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Tri-Cities with terminal or life-threatening illnesses, offering resources and events on top of granting wishes.
Finnley has Coffin-Siris Syndrome (CSS), an extremely rare genetic disorder. She loves to swing and was surprised with the permanently redone backyard playspace, featuring a swing designed for immobilized kids and a temperature-controlled playhouse.
The symptoms of CSS vary, and Finnley is one of four people in the world diagnosed with her specific variant. Geneticists are researching the condition, but little is currently known about what Finnley’s future holds.
Common indicators include some head and face abnormalities, short pinkie fingers and toes, underdeveloped nails, diminished muscle tone and developmental delays.
“It’s really rare,” her mom, Codi Couchman, told the Tri-City Herald. “We could use all the funding we can get for research to try and elevate the families that are dealing with this, and just learn more about it and make it more common to ask questions and seek to understand what she’s going through.”
The family often travels to Seattle to see an array of specialists, who have recommended continued therapies for Finnley when she returns home.
The playspace unveiled May 6 includes play options that integrate these therapies, so Finnley can make progress while having fun like other kids.
Wishing Star’s accessible features
One of the first things you notice in the Couchman’s backyard is the swing. One side is a couch, the other specifically made for immobilized kids.
A ramp comes down to allow the children onto the swing, then once their brakes are locked, the ramp comes back up, acting as additional support. Once the child is ready, they can swing with parents on the other side.
Next to the swing is Finnley’s Playhouse, a new structure built by volunteers. It’s temperature controlled with an A/C unit inside, full doors and windows and endless fun for Finnley.
A SensoryMoon water feature sits in one corner, with toy fish inside. There are toys scattered across the windows, like orange foam toys with suction on both ends, one of which Finnley was sure to hang on to after checking out the new playhouse. There are mats for Finnley to lay on and comfortable hammock swings hanging from the ceiling.
One of the crowd’s favorite features was the sensory board, a pull-out board on the wall with dozens of gadgets, fidgets and other items for sensory play.
In the other corner, there is a ball pit with an attached seat for Finnley. She can also listen to music in the playhouse or look at the supply of books.
The playhouse is decorated with pictures of Finnley’s family, inspirational messages and other art for her to enjoy. One sign reads “Finnley Rae, she may be small but she is mighty!!”
Codi called the new backyard a “sanctuary where we can play safely.”
For kids like Finnley, playtime is more complex than it is for other kids. There usually aren’t a lot of inclusive play options in one place, which can sometimes keep the available options pretty busy.
On top of that, just leaving the house is different for disabled kids. Finnley has a special diet, so any outings require a cooler with what she can eat.
There also has to be somewhere she can lie down when she gets her diaper changed, since diaper stations don’t have options for her size.
“It’s just a lot involved,” Codi said on outings with Finnley. “So being able to have this space for Finn and her friends, it’s comfortable for the family, it’s comfortable for the kids, it’s safe, it’s quiet ... most of the time.”
Building Finnley’s playhouse
The project has been in the works since August 2022, according to Codi.
When the Couchman’s first moved into their Richland home, they wanted a swing that Finnley could use. Swinging is one of Finnley’s favorite things, so when she was granted a wish, Codi requested a swing.
The Wishing Star Foundation elevated the idea, pitching a whole new backyard.
What was once a standard yard of grass and plants has been completely redone, with more concrete, new structures and soon, a pool pad so Finnley can swim too.
“It’s everything I wanted and more,” Codi said.
The space wasn’t just revealed to Finnley, though. While it’s her backyard, the playspace is also open to her friends, like Millie George and Kade Korstvedt.
All three are Wishing Star kids who can now enjoy the swing, check out the playhouse and hang out in their new space on the sunny reveal day and beyond.
Before the ribbon-cutting, Ashleigh Rogers, the Foundation’s Wish Programs and Outreach Manager, spoke and thanked everyone who took part in the project. Certificates of gratitude were given to volunteers and community partners. Rogers said the project was a “labor of love from the whole community.”
There are several ways you can support the Wishing Star Foundation, listed on the Ways To Give part of the website.