Celebrating Diversity – Special Needs Play Group

We are in the second half now of enjoying our special needs playgroup on the Gold Coast.  It’s such a lovely inclusive group, where parents can bring their children with varying medical conditions and the siblings that they are growing up with, along to a casual playgroup.  I get just as much out of it, as the twins do.

Every week, there is always something going on for everyone – to cater to all the sensory needs – indoors or outdoors, rain, hail or sunshine.

There is nothing worse than being with a group of people and feeling alone. That is how I felt when I went to playgroups early on with the twins.  Maybe it is due to my over sensitive nature, combined with lack of proper sleep, but I felt there was too much pity shown towards me and what my twins were going through from people who deep down, was glad it wasn’t them.  I am not saying that this is correct, but it’s the feeling you get.  Call it intuition – whatever, when you generally get a feeling about something, doesn’t the saying go ‘trust your instinct’?  It’s hard to keep a conversation going that turns heavy once a stranger has approached the topic that you are trying to delicately avoid ….. ‘so what is wrong with him?  What is wrong with his leg?’  All simple innocent questions, but when I was in the midst of learning this myself, these questions tipped me over the edge.  You express it as best as you can at the time, but terms like Brain Damage, Cerebral Palsy, intractable epilepsy, and heart condition are a bit heavy for first time meetings!  And then comes the probing questions, for those that were brave.  ‘Will he grow out of it?  Will he talk?  Will he do this, will he do that?’  Who the bloody hell knows?!  People want a definitive answer and unfortunately, life isn’t like that – particularly for us.  4 years on and we are still waiting, watching patiently.

The other problem I found was trying to join a group – say a sporting group – where you have to tick a load of boxes, or can’t tick, because we live outside the ticked box!  It is very hard to be inclusive in an environment which sees one parent, just the one – ie ME – running around after Mr D who instead of kicking the ball, would hide in the cupboard and think it was hilarious.  We tried, the coaches tried, week after week, but some things at a certain age aren’t meant to be and it’s a lot for people – especially those first time parents with young children – to comprehend.  They are exhausted already and they look at you and say ‘how do you do it?’.  Well, I’m not sure, it has to be done, so we do.  We all do what we have to do, right?!

So on home I went, to start searching for something more appropriate.  This wasn’t working, and I didn’t want my kids to miss out on playgroup just because of cerebral palsy, epilepsy and a heart condition!  Pfffftttt, give us a better reason to stay home, thanks!

I rang around, asked some other friends that I had met online what the current situation was like where they lived – whether on the GC or other parts of Australia.  There were some groups around, but not a huge amount.

Another light bulb moment hit me, and I decided I would just make one!  I knew what I wanted in my top 3:-

  1. SAFETY – I wanted a safe area, where all the equipment was accessible.  Grass – lots of grass for those kids that tumble and fall, and for those that sit and wobble and those that crawl and shuffle.
  2. FREE – I wanted it to be of no cost – I didn’t want to pay to go hang out with other parents with children under difficult circumstances.  That’s an added stress we don’t need.
  3. HOMELY – I wanted everyone to feel it was their group.  The weekly playgroup should feel like as if you were rocking up to a friend’s house – easy and casual.
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Our inside area!

After a few phone calls to different organisations for assistance, the Benevolent Society (North Gold Coast Early Years Centre) was very interested in this initiative and assisted with getting it off the ground running.  They were able to do a substantial leaflet drop and after a few quieter weeks at the beginning, we started to build up.

When we rejoined after a six month absence, it was a great welcome back with a few new faces together with old friends, and a great environment was growing steadily week after week.  Also, funding had allowed for a brand new extensive toy library – inclusive of special needs equipment for borrowing, which is a very important factor when trying to continue with homebase therapy – a few extra additions are always welcomed!

Together with the growth of the playgroup, it is ran by a great facilitator who brings ideas to the group – particularly an extended language program for the kids.  There are volunteers from the local university who also assist – many who study social work.  They are great with the kids, and it gives our kids new interactions with other adults, who are not therapists!

If you ever feel there is something that your local community could benefit from, even if it is a small group of you, then ask, just ask!  Make phone calls and basically don’t give up until you receive the response you want.  You will find, that although the backgrounds of people you meet will always be different, these groups bring people together.  It celebrates diversity in all its forms and the current thread that bring us together in the first place, is that we are just parents who love our kids and want to give them as many positive experiences as possible.

I will really miss this little group when my kids start their new chapter next year, at big school, but so happy that it serves a rightful place in our community and will continue to help those that need this positive interaction with others in the same boat.

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