When a child has special needs, this can affect the whole family, and they all may need support. That’s according to Carndonagh social enterprise Spraoi agus Spórt who have set up new services to meet these needs.
Spraoi volunteer, Margaret Farren, has a 30-year-old daughter with autism and says no-one understands what it’s like until they have experienced it.
“It’s not just the parents who struggle to cope. It affects brothers and sisters too, particularly those younger than the child with special needs. They can feel left out, overwhelmed, and isolated at home, at school and socially.”
Support for Families with Special Needs
So, Margaret decided last year to take positive action to increase support for these families. First, she started a course in Derry on Supporting Individuals with Learning Disabilities. Then she approached Spraoi agus Spórt as a volunteer with the aim of supporting special needs families.
Margaret now facilitates a new Parent and Toddler Group every Wednesday from 10am to 12pm at Spraoi’s premises at Unit 6, Supervalu. This group is for parents and children who have a diagnosis. Margaret says it’s also “for those awaiting an assessment or whose children display early signs of a special need. Siblings are welcome to come along too.”
She also holds a monthly support meeting for parents of children with special needs on the first Tuesday of every month from 7.30pm to 9pm in Unit 6. In addition, you can contact Margaret to arrange a one-to-one chat and Spraoi has a monthly social club for adults with a disability.
Special Needs and Inclusivity
“Being inclusive is at the heart of Spraoi agus Spórt since we were founded,” says Patricia Lee, Chairperson of Spraoi agus Spórt. “All our Parent and Toddler sessions are open to children with special needs. We make our activities accessible for children with a disability and/or autism by providing Special Needs Assistants. Spraoi offer the Summer Programme (July Provision). We also run a Youth Club for children with a disability and we have been offering Respite Services since 2011.”
Margaret says each family’s needs and circumstances are different but “they bounce off each other and learn from each other. Spraoi is also planning to extend Respite Services to further support these families. If you have a young family who have a child with special needs, that child tends to come first. The other children also need quality time with Mammy and Daddy so Respite Care gives them this time.”
Patricia says “Our families identified a need for a space for parents of those with special needs to come together and support each other. Our new services do just that. They offer a safe and supportive environment where parents can connect with others who are facing similar challenges. Together they can share experiences and strategies for coping.”