A new report published by a national charity, Sense states that parents of deafblind and disabled children need more support in getting better access to play opportunities for their children.
The ‘Case for Play’ report was released as part of Deafblind Awareness Week 2015 (22 – 28 June) and marks the beginning of a year-long Sense campaign that will investigate the barriers to play faced by disabled children, as well as what can be done to break those barriers down.
Sense Deputy Chief Executive, Richard Kramer explained: “Through play, children learn how to express emotion, engage with others and build a sense of belonging, while at the same time becoming more independent. Sadly due the uneven provision of support, our children frequently miss out on play opportunities, which impacts on their educational and social development. And when the first developmental milestones are missed, the support that these children will need in the future is going to be extensive and costly.”
One of the children to benefit from early support is three-and-a-half-year-old Isaac. He has CHARGE1 syndrome and a cortical vision impairment, as well as significant hearing loss. He can’t speak, but recently started to communicate using signs. As Isaac is very sensory seeking, Sarah, his Children and Family Support Worker focuses on touch working with specialist toys.
Isaac’s mum Kelly said: “Nobody had talked to us about Isaac’s sensory needs before. Once Sarah got involved everything started to get easier for us. The equipment helps to develop the senses, using touch and music. When Sarah introduced us to them, it gave me a chance to bond with Isaac rather than worry and wonder how he is doing.”
“When they are babies and young toddlers, children with multi-sensory impairments are working so hard to understand the world around them. As parents we don’t have any awareness of what they are going through, we can’t experience the world the way they do. I didn’t know how to interpret what my baby was trying to tell me. Sarah explained how Isaac experiences things and why he behaves in certain ways. It was like putting the pieces of a puzzle together.”
Richard Kramer continued: “Communication is essential in early development and what we often hear from the parents of the children we support is that they really need an early specialist input to help them communicate with their children better. Early intervention support is vital for creating stronger family bonds and environments in which all family members can thrive and be positive about the future.”
The Case for Play report kicks off the year long campaign by examining the specific challenges encountered by the children and families supported by Sense.
Key report findings are:
• Sensory impairments do not just impact on who children play with, but also how they play. Children can struggle to engage in pretend play.
• Children may find it harder to make friends as they struggle to understand what is appropriate and how their actions affect their peers.
• Parents frequently struggle to engage with their child and do not know how to use play and establish a bond in the early years
• The availability of suitable play groups and play spaces is a barrier to parents finding play opportunities for their child
• There is some evidence that special needs children are being prevented from playing because some adults are risk averse
• There is a lack of information about the number and availability of accessible play settings across the country
• There is a clear lack of research about the impact of play on developmental progress for children who do not communicate with formal language.
As part of the report, Sense has made a range of practical recommendations that can already be implemented by families and professionals:
• Parents should have better access to information and advice on how to play with their child, including how to make their own toys at home.
• Parents should have an easy-to-use record, a ‘Play Passport, of how their child plays so that they can share that information with non-specialist play group leader.
• Families, support workers and teachers should make time to celebrate the successes children achieve through play.
• Communication support for children should prioritise the use of play.
• Early support should recognise that parents of children need help ‘tuning in’ to their child so that they can find the right ways to play together.
• Disabled children and their families should be involved in the design of play spaces and sessions to ensure they meet their needs.
For local authorities:
• Local authorities should make early intervention through play a funding priority.
• All children and their families should have early access to specialist support from specialist workers.
• Local authorities should do more to identify children in their early years. They could do this by ensuring that relevant professionals in education, social care and health have received training about deafblindness and understand the importance of sharing information with other agencies.
• Once a child has been identified they should receive a specialist assessment, and specialist support must be provided to help to meet their needs.
• Every local authority should provide accessible play opportunities that meet a range of needs, including specialist and mainstream settings.
• When assessing a child’s needs, local authorities should ensure that the child is given adequate intervenor support so that they are able to take advantage of the play opportunities that are right for them