Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Autism (ACTION) Month–Adult Sized Swing Set

With the sadness of the Boston Marathon on Monday, I think the world needs to hear something good … something GREAT.

Superman and I had a fantastic weekend. We spent our Saturday morning and afternoon serving one of my favorite families … building a special needs/adult sized swing set in their backyard.

My dear friend, Susan and her husband Joe, have a sweet 13 year old boy with severe autism. Although their sweet Cale is non-verbal, they know that he LOVES to swing. Several weeks ago, Susan emailed me and asked if Superman knew anyone who could come give her a quote to build an adult sized swing in her backyard. Her sweet little boy is a big, growing boy, so the frame would need to be sturdy.

When I asked Superman, he immediately suggested that we get some people together and build it as a service project. See how smart he is? That’s why I keep him around … I’m still trying to figure out why he keeps ME around. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

I mentioned our little plan to a mutual friend (Melissa) who knows Susan and she got the idea to hold a bake sale to raise the money  to build the swing (we’re all about going a step beyond) … and the next thing we knew, we were hosting our “Sale for Cale”. All told, 69 orders were placed from a set menu of Easter cakes … and through the sale of cakes and desserts as well as a big painting from me and several cash donations, we were able to raise over $1,700 … in a span of DAYS. See? There is still so. much. good. in this world!!! And, I’d like to add that only 5 of those people knew Susan. The rest were total strangers … coming together to be a part of something great. Something life changing. Something bigger and better than we had ever imagined.

And on Saturday, we had the extreme privilege of working along side some of the most wonderful people I know. I am honored and humbled to call them all friends. And I sat with Susan (and the other wives) and watched … as our idea became a reality. And Susan’s long awaited dream for her son came to fruition.

In the event that some of you reading might be needing some plans/ideas for an adult sized swing set (that is able to hold up to 350 lbs per swing), I’m going to attempt to give you a picture tutorial of what we did. And I’ll let you meet my sweet friend, Susan. And her wonderfully perfect and amazing sons, Cale and Finn.

Superman started the project with a 6”x6”x12’ solid cedar beam. He bought 4”x4”x12’ beams to use as the legs to the ‘A Frame’. He started by chiseling out a spot on the 6”x6” beam for the 4”x4” beams to rest. First, he marked his angle, using his angle tool:

swing for cale1swing for cale2

Then, using a saw and chisel, he cut out the openings where the 4”x4” legs would rest:


The legs sat on the beam at 110* angles, for those who want to build one. In between each leg, he placed two braces, both of those sat at 50* angles to the legs they were on. Like this:


And this:


Sorry guys … I didn’t take the best pictures of this project. I was way too excited about what we were doing to think about pictures for a blog tutorial. ;)

To secure the 4”x4” legs to the 6”x6” beam, Superman drilled holes all the way through the legs and beam, like this:


And then used the “create-a-bolt” bolts from Home Depot, because the largest carriage bolt he could find was 12” and we needed 14” at the longest point.


12” carriage bolts worked for the top, but not the bottom bolts (both at the top of the frame).

Once the ‘A Frame’ was bolted together, the guys screwed some of these metal plates to the top of the frame (you can see the placement markings in the picture above) and then bent it back to the leg and screwed it on there, like this:


And this:


Those metal plates made the frame super stable, and they keep the entire swing set from swaying back and forth from side to side. Finally, they anchored the frame to the ground. We bought 30” steel ground stakes that fit around the base of each leg and then extended 2 1/2 feet into the ground! You can always dig holes and use cement. Whatever you prefer!

And now, here are some picture of the crew of volunteers in action (sorry, some are blurry … I’m not a photographer – at all!!) …


Superman took the ‘A’s already put together, in the back of his truck, so that everyone just had to bolt the beam in place, anchor it, and hang the swings.


You gotta love the mother of the 15 year old boy who gets her son where he needs to be at 8am on a Saturday … and even more, you gotta love that 15 year old boy for getting up early on his Saturday! We love you, Parker!


This is Susan (left) and Melissa (right). Melissa was the mastermind behind our unbelievably successful ‘Sale for Cale’.


Tiffany (who had never met me OR Susan, but wanted to help), Susan, and Liesl (who knows Susan from therapy). Liesl’s husband, Dave, worked hard all morning/afternoon.


6 of the 10 men who showed up to work on their Saturday. I’m telling y’all – this world is still filled with so much good!!


Chad Combs (from Eldorado Builders was a Godsend. I swear that man has every tool under the sun. If you live in the DFW area and have any construction needs, call Chad!! Good guys finish first!


Dave. We call him ‘the wise old man’. He may or may not have given himself the nickname. ;)


Oh my goodness … just looking back through these pictures, I have so much gratitude in my heart for these men. Their wives are lucky women.


There is a frequently used saying around my house. It is: “Many hands make light work.” Ain’t THAT the truth!!


There’s that 15 year old boy that I love so much, again. I love him so much that I gave his momma a job teaching with me 5 days a week. HAHAHA. (DFW ladies, the dude in the black with the hat is single – message me, I know you wanna).


Me, Susan, and Melissa. (If you didn’t vote for Romney, please just ignore my shirt. Nothing personal, I promise.)


Susan and her neighbor, Niki (another dear friend of mine).


Chad was a master at the sledge hammer … regular Paul Bunyan.


See? Dude’s a stud … If Superman had a sidekick (like Batman does), his name would be Chad. ;)


Standin’ around, lookin’ pretty … just kidding. Swing hardware going up!!! Woohoo!!


Love these guys so much. Melissa’s husband, Brandon, on the right.


The wise old man enjoying some one-on-one time with his power tools.


BAM!! They were in HEAVEN! Cale’s brother, Finn, is in the blue shirt on the right. He was BEAMING. See?


(sorry, hard to get a non-blurry picture when he’s swinging)


Remember these pictures, the next time you think YOU can’t make a difference in someone’s life. Because, you CAN! Nothing feels better than helping other people! True story.


Me and Superman … No words can describe how much I love this man. He is a good, good, good man.


And finally, it was time to bring Cale out and show him. There are no words for the joy that his sweet laughter, squealing, and dancing brought to all the volunteers. His reaction made everyone’s sacrifice and time SO worth it. We love you, Cale!!


How priceless is this picture of sweet Susan and her precious Cale? This is the good stuff that life is made of, people!!

I challenge all of you, in the wake of Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon Bombing and all the awful things going in this great world, to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. No matter how small. No matter how insignificant it seems. Be the change you want to see. Together, we can change things … it just takes a little more love.

And, we are officially renaming April “Autism ACTION Month”, instead of “Autism Awareness Month”.


* For those interested in building this swing set, the total cost with lumber, swings, hardware, anchors, etc. was about $800. And each swing, installed with commercial grade hardware, holds up to 350lbs. Both regular swings were commercial grade swings, guaranteed up to 350lbs. All hardware used was commercial grade, guaranteed up to 350 lbs.

** Cale’s dad, Joe, is not pictured … he was quarantined to his bedroom with the stomach flu. Poor guy.

*** The remaining money from the fundraiser was donated to the family to help with any additional needs.


After several days of adjusting to the idea of a swing in his backyard, Cale decided to give the swing a try tonight. What a great day! Enjoy these pictures … pure joy!

Cale's Swing 013Cale's Swing 014Cale's Swing 015Cale's Swing 020Cale's Swing 037Cale's Swing 048

The pictures say it all. :D


  1. Hello, I don't know you and you don't know me, but I just wanted to say THANK YOU for touching my heart today. That is such an awesome story!! I love to serve others and the pure joy that comes from it. Thanks for making a difference in this young mans life!! You are so awesome!!

  2. Aw, thank you! We loved doing it. One of the best memories I've ever made! Have a great day and I think YOU'RE awesome. :D

  3. I'm not a DFW lady, but if I were, I'd message you about that guy in the black hat. I was thinking the whole time reading, I want to marry the kind of guy like these lovely ladies have :o) Great job everyone. Very impressive.

    1. Black hat guy is totally adorable. And he seems like the kind of guy who is okay with being called adorable. Which, makes him that much more adorable. ;)

      And, Ms. Betty ... PLEASE marry a man like Superman. Or black hat guy. They're worth waiting for. And wading through the swamp for. I promise.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Spent some time searching for a swing set for our son when I stumbled upon your blog. Our son is autistic nonverbal/severe. I usually get raised eyebrows when I ask around for an adult sized swing set. Cale's laughter and smiles remind me of our own son. Thank you for keeping me motivated in my search.

    1. Thank you!! It's well worth all the time and energy it took. Susan says that Cale is out in their backyard every day swinging ... which means their family gets to be out in their backyard, every day, enjoying the out doors, which wasn't always so easy before. Where do you live? I'd love to help.

  5. I have a 14 year old son with autism. Jonathan loves to swing (and bounce). We have a 'kid size' metal swing set that is rusting out and getting ready to toss it. My husband has wanted to 'build' a wooden swing set for him. (but he is NOT a 'handy man'), so I just 'googled' "wooden adult swingset" and the first hit was your blog.

    What a WONDERFUL thing you and your 'posse' did. I wish there was someone near me who would do something similar. We could physically help do it, but we don't know what we are doing! lol

    God bless you and your friends.

    1. Thank you, Cindy! Where do you live? I'd love to help. I've got plenty of friends and fellow bloggers nation wide.

      Thanks for stopping by ... this project was so worth the effort!!


  6. Hi Janette,
    I live in Virginia. I think there are many people looking for adult size swing sets and can't find them. How could we make this happen for more people that need these swings?

    1. Shelly,

      I'm so sorry ... I never saw this comment. We are actually in the middle of starting an organization to do just that. We live in the Dallas area and currently, right now, are working on getting a swing constructed for a family in Mount Royal, NJ. If we can pull it off, and get some exposure with decent fundraising, we hope to give adult sized swings to many families each year. Stay tuned ... there is an update coming on this. It's been 9 months, and lots of brainstorming, in the making. Let me know if you'd like to help or donate. Just know that we don't yet have a 501c3. Takes forever.


  7. Is there someone I can speak to now about the design, specifically the angles used for the A framesuch as the angle from a front view (Howe much is it leaning, or away from 90 degrees vertical) and the angle of the legs from the side (as if you were looking directly at the "A." My neighbor is looking about building a swing set for his son for the same reasons.

  8. My 18 year old son, Lucas, moved into a group home in Topeka a few months ago and Cale sounds strikingly similar to Lucas. Lucas cannot sit in a chair without rocking the chair front to back LOL. He has a compound illness that, in an abbreviated sense consists of PDD (Autism like) and psychotic behaviors but is very verbal and loves telling stories as he makes them up. He lives to swing though and he just loses himself when he swings. He has had a difficult time adjusting due to his dangerous elopements (which he has done for the last few years). State law does not allow group homes to lock residents inside. Anyway, I want to build a swing set just like this one. I should be able to build it from the information and photos on here. Any advice would be great. Thank you for sharing this wonderful and inspiring story. My heart just melted when I saw Cale's photo.

  9. Hi Janette,
    We live in NH and are looking to build a swing set for our daughter for the same reasons. Did anything come about of your organization? Would you be willing to share and plans and materials list for the swing set? Between us and some good neighbors, we may be able to make the same thing work for our daughter.