I am Lorna, mum to Seren (very nearly 3) and Finlay (9). Seren has been attending playskill since January 2017 when she was 13 months old. She is one of the first children to attend the new Dome group on a Tuesday afternoon. I am speaking from my own experience, with a few comments provided by parents of other children who also attend Dome.
I am assuming that most people here understand who Playskill are and what they do, and the Dome group continues with Playskill’s core aims to provide a therapeutic play group for children with physical needs. Dome is placed as an intermediate group, a step up from the foundation groups, and a step before the very preschool focussed ‘advanced’ group. The group starts with circle time, where children are now encouraged to find their picture to locate their place. During circle time children have a chance to say “hello” in their own way, they practice waiting for a turn, listening, responding appropriately and following instructions. Opportunities to choose are interwoven into a joining in with a song, before which children are encouraged to wash their hands in preparation for lunch. This is very much a social occasion as well as an opportunity to practice choosing, eating, fine motor and communication skills. Parents also learn signing and ways to communicate effectively with their child.
After lunch children work on individual targets with their key person, parent/carer and therapists. This might involve completing the much loved obstacle course, working on fine motor skills with puzzles, play dough and toy cars or playing games to promote speech and language skills. The group then moves on to messy play or craft, again an opportunity to work on a wide variety of skills. After messy play the children walk outside (practicing those gross motor skills on a very undulating surface) to find the soft play room. Before going in to soft play where opportunities abound for gross motor, communication and a range of other skills to be practiced, the children practice putting on a t-shirt (of their choice of course), taking off their shoes and balancing on a bench, all skills valuable for preschool children in preparation for school. Whilst the children are in soft play, the parents go for coffee, where there is an opportunity to talk and to speak with parent support workers and other staff.
So what exactly does Playskill mean to me? To answer that I want to tell you a little about our story with Seren…
As a second time mum I thought I knew what I was doing when it came to parenting. I wasn’t phased when Seren came out of the newborn, sleepy phase and spent hours on end awake at night. I knew it was just a stage and that it would pass. I wasn’t worried when she became grizzly, chewy and whingey at 4 months old, I knew that she was teething and eventually the little pearly whites would emerge and she would once more be happy again. And there were plenty of other normal but worrying stages which we sailed through. However having had a child before did not, and could not, have prepared me for mothering a child with additional needs.
Seren was diagnosed with global developmental delay aged 10 months, but I had known for many months more that something wasn’t quite right. She has had multiple tests, but no other diagnosis has been found to explain her developmental delay so gdd is the diagnosis we have been left with. And it sucks. Ours is not an unusual story, and Seren’s needs pale into insignificance when compared with the challenges other children face. However everything is relative and our life, compared to the life we expected, is very different. The problem with a diagnosis like gdd is you don’t really ‘fit’ anywhere. Your child is not like typically developing children, yet they are still a child and they still have the needs, desires, aspirations, energy and fun other children have.
Most services for children with additional needs, in my experience, are pressured, meaning the cult of the positive prevails and there is a tendency to downplay needs. Services are streamlined such that professionals work in silos with children on very specific needs. There is also, in my experience, very little attention paid to the needs of the parent carer. Whilst your child may be making progress your life is often still very difficult but there is little if any space to open up discussion regarding these needs.
Playskill is different. Playskill acknowledges theoretically and practically that physical need usually brings other needs, and that in order to move children forward you must attend to needs in a holistic way, including working on the needs of the parents. After all, if the parents are not ok, well….They also wholeheartedly embrace the notion that children, regardless of their diagnosis or developmental ability are still children, and in order to meet needs you must treat them through a fun environment that meets their need to be a child, hence the playgroup setting, and identify opportunities within that environment to work on goals in a targeted way.
When Seren started in the foundation group I immediately felt like we both belonged to a huge family where staff and other parents genuinely cared for the well-being of all members of a family attending playskill.
The dome group is a place where Seren and I come to learn, play and have fun with other children and a group of adults who I believe have genuinely come to love her and all of the other children who attend. It is a place where she can learn the skills she needs in preparation for pre-school like dressing and undressing, drawing, playing with play dough and hopefully one day scooting! It is a place where all achievements are genuinely celebrated, no matter how late they come. It is a place where you can come to enjoy all of the activites other parents enjoy with their children such as messy play, soft play and singing, without being faced with the comparison to other typically developing children. Because it is so highly differentiated it is a place where moving on and moving up is possible, whichever group your child attends. It is a place where it is ok to talk about your fears as well as your hopes, to seek advice and support from staff as well as other parents. It is a place where it is ok to not be ok, where it is possible not to pretend that life is wonderful, where other’s understand that your child and your life is not necessarily what you expected. It is a place where it is possible to feel proud of the little person your child is becoming.
Coming to playskill every week is like coming home. So in behalf of my family, thank you Playskill.