Therapy playgroup a confidence booster for families of children with autism
Kate had all but given up on mainstream playgroups for her youngest son, Archie, when she learned about Gateways Early Intervention Therapy Playgroup.
‘I’d had such bad experiences with typical playgroups because they made me feel ostracised. It was such a daunting experience going to regular playgroups and Archie hated it,’ Kate says.
‘I was reluctant to try again, but at the Early Intervention Playgroup I soon saw that Archie was celebrated for being himself.’
Finding a group that not only embraced and nurtured her child, but also did not judge her parenting was game-changing for the Geelong mum of four.
‘It’s not just a great playgroup for the kids, it is also an awesome group of mums and dads who are there to help you,’ Kate says.
‘The other parents get your experience, so you can bounce ideas around and they genuinely share in your child’s progress. It is so nice not to feel alone.’
Kate has a teenage son who has autism and has been a Gateways client for many years. So when Archie received his diagnosis at age two-and-a-half, she asked about suitable playgroup options.
She says previous experience of mainstream groups had made her wary, with Archie becoming overwhelmed by noisy group events or responding in unexpected ways that other children and parents did not understand.
At the Early Intervention Therapy Playgroup, Kate and Archie found a place of support, acceptance and encouragement.
‘(Therapist facilitators) Clare and Liz were always able to pinpoint all of Archie’s successes and achievements, no matter how small,’ Kate says.
‘Things that might seem insignificant to other parents were significant to us, and to have that acknowledged and celebrated was just wonderful.’
Gateways runs its Early Intervention Therapy Playgroups in Geelong and western Melbourne for pre-kinder aged children who have a developmental delay or specific diagnosis. Registrations for the 2021 program close at the end of January.
The weekly sessions are conducted jointly by an occupational therapist and a speech pathologist, who work with the child and parents to develop a range of social, communication, physical and self-management skills. Progress reports are prepared for families as well as supporting documentation for NDIS review sessions.
Early Intervention Therapy Playgroup Speech Pathologist Clare Glazebrook says that in addition to building developmental skills, the sessions also familiarise children with indoor play, group music, snack time, story time and outdoor play.
Clare says the sessions are designed not only to address the needs of the group, but also with an understanding of the needs and goals of individual children and their families. She says it is a great way for young families who have just started with the NDIS to begin accessing therapy while they wait for additional services.
‘The overarching aim is to create a safe space for our families to come and share their wins and their challenges,’ Clare says.
‘The strength that the other parents bring for each other is just as important as the therapeutic aspects and is such a privilege to be part of.’
Kate says Archie was able to successfully attend three-year-old kinder while still attending playgroup sessions. While he is now too old to attend, Kate says her son is more than ready to step confidently into four-year-old kinder this year.
‘Through attending the playgroup he was able to get used to having other kids in his space,’ Kate says. ‘He can now tolerate other people singing and has learned how to make requests using picture exchange communication. I would definitely recommend people go along and try it out.’
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