Support playgroup for autistic kids

Michael who was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) feels relaxed at the St Columba Special Kids Playgroup.

Anger, hurt, anxiety and depression are some of the emotions parents experience when a child is diagnosed with autism.

Life can be challenging and lonely for a parent whose child is on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Talita De Lange is one such mother who felt her dreams were dashed when she was informed that their son Michael was on the spectrum (varying levels of autism) in Dec 2014.

“We attended courses on autism and the support we experienced by being with other families who were going through a similar journey was so precious and uplifting,” she says.

Hearing about stories of progress and breakthroughs helped but when the courses ended, Talita found it hard to keep in contact with the families.

Fortunately, when she spoke about it to the St Columba Presbyterian Church (at 480 Ti Rakau Drive), they suggested that that perhaps they could have a get-together for a few families sharing the same journey.

That’s how the St Columba Special Kids Playgroup and Families Support Group was formed. Held every Monday and Wednesday from 12.30-2.30pm, the playgroup sessions are a good opportunity for mothers to relax whilst their children play in a safe and relaxed environment.

“We share stories of hope and talk about light at the end of the tunnel,” says the mother of five-and-a-half-year-old Michael and four-year- old Sonja who are both on the spectrum.

“Talking to other mothers dealing with special needs children helps us to share tips on coping in school, toilet training or dealing with aggression.”

The playgroup is held after the neurotypical (normal children) playgroup in the mornings at the church and run by Dawn Preest – helps both mothers and special needs children to have a social connection and form friendships.

“It’s hard for our children to be in public places where they feel a sensory overload.

“Our kids often struggle in crowded playgroups because of noise or social over-stimulation, so this small group was perfect.

“Many families stay clear of public events so they end up missing out on a lot of fun. There were so many families in our east Auckland area that needed to connect so we started a regular meet up group. Since then we have had fantastic experiences, including visits from the Fire Brigade, St John Ambulance and the Guide Dog Association.”

Another mother of three, Bronwyn Otte-Kristian, says that while there are high functioning autistic children, “and then there are those with severe autism, it’s important to understand that they are children of extremities and are living in a high level of stress. It can be just one loud noise that can put them over the edge.”

Coping for the parents can be tough. Parents of children on the spectrum are often on anti-depressants, she says.

Both the mothers say early intervention is important and meeting up in groups like these takes away some of the anxiety and reassures them that they are not alone.

  • Autism is a development disorder that appears in early childhood, usually before the age of three and affects the child’s ability to communicate and interact with others,

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