Special playgroup growing
Sniffles and colds put playgroups off-limits for children with high health needs, so a Pauatahanui mother has created her own.
Dee Harris’ twin boys, Eli and Ben, were born at 26 weeks, and still suffer from lung problems at 20 months old.
Both have feeding tubes and cannot socialise in regular playgroups, where toddlers could be harbouring illnesses.
‘‘Just getting a cold landed us back in hospital,’’ Mrs Harris said.
‘‘The kids missed out on all that play, the socialising and being among their peers. And I missed out on interacting with other mums, mums who understood our journey.’’
Five weeks ago Mrs Harris started two playgroups especially for children with high health needs. They are the only groups of their kind in the Wellington region, and have attracted families from as far away as Eastbourne.
Children who attend have a wide range of health issues, from heart problems to Down syndrome.
Everybody is welcome and nobody is stigmatised for physical differences like Eli and Ben’s feeding tubes, Mrs Harris said.
Mrs Harris said families would stay away if any member had a temperature, and because the groups were free there was no pressure to attend when playgroup clashed with medical appointments.
On Wednesdays, children can attend a sensory playgroup at Mana Playcentre, and on Fridays Mrs Harris hosts a music group in her home.
Premature children in particular needed to ease gently into sensory play, because they had been overexposed to noises and touch since their early deliveries, Mrs Harris said.
‘‘ They’ve been poked and prodded and been born so early they didn’t get that womb environment for long enough, so they’ve been exposed to loud noises.’’
An occupational therapist tailors activities to the playgroup attendees. Some children, for example, couldn’t handle a big sandpit, so were given a small bucket of sand to play with, Mrs Harris said.
Parenting high-needs children can be an isolating experience, and mother- of- four Mrs Harris especially encourages first-time parents to come along.
‘‘I know what [parenting] should be. A first-time mum would just say, ‘ This isn’t what I imagined’. I know how hard I find it. It’s a struggle, so I really hope other families find us and become connected.’’
Safe and social: Pauatahanui mother Dee Harris has launched Wellington’s only playgroup for children with high health needs, like her sons Eli and Ben, 20 months.