Spe­cial play­group grow­ing

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

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.’’

Photo: AN­DREA O’NEIL

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.

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