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How Hawthorn Specialist Playroom made such a difference to Dawn and Eloise

  • By MencapUsr
  • 21st May 2019

One mum’s story of adapting to the “new world” that having a child with learning disability can bring, and the invaluable support her family received that needs more funding

Leeds Mencap provides support through the Hawthorn Specialist playroom at The Vinery Centre in East Leeds. Hawthorn is a safe and welcoming playroom available to children aged 0-3 with a learning disability from across Leeds. It provides expert early support and intervention to 54 children each year, many of whom have complex needs and health issues, physical disabilities or sensory loss.

The specialist staff at Hawthorn focus on developing vital skills such as feeding, communication and walking, so that children get the best possible start in these early years. Alongside this, the parents receive vital emotional support as well as practical guidance in what can be a very challenging time. 

Dawn is mum to Eloise and Dawn wants to get the word out about how Hawthorn has helped Eloise and their family.

“Our daughter Eloise was diagnosed with 22q.11 Deletion Syndrome in August 2016 when she was 11 months old, and after 2 major surgeries (cleft repair and open heart surgery) we spent the best part of 6 months trying to adapt to our ‘new world’.  When we first met Kath, who is Leeds Mencap’s Family Support Worker, she showed us Hawthorn and explained the support that both Eloise and our family would get. After a home visit and a short wait, Eloise was offered a place on Mondays and started in May 2017. 

Hawthorn has given us so much, both for Eloise and to me as a new to role parent of a child with additional needs.

The support and development Eloise has received has been exceptional. She has come on so much in the playroom, through tailored development plans, focussing on her communication – initially using Makaton sign language and then developing her speech.  Her gross motor skills have come on so much. When she arrived she could not walk and the accessibility of apparatus in the playroom encouraged her to move around. Her social skills have come on beautifully and Eloise has developed lovely relationships with the other children, especially looking after the smaller less mobile children.  When Eloise turned 2 and received 15 hours of funding for pre-school, the Hawthorn team liaised with her new nursery, inviting them into Hawthorn for a meeting to discuss her needs, plans, development and next steps.  

In terms of support for myself, Hawthorn has given me a network of other parents who totally understand.  Although all of our children have different conditions, we are all in the same place in terms of appointments, specialists, accessing services and often frustrations.  Being allowed to sit with my peers for 5 hours each week has allowed me to build a network of people who just ‘get it’. This coupled with access to the staff, who are so incredibly knowledgeable, has improved the quality of our lives. 

Without Hawthorn, I’m sure I would have muddled through. However, with Hawthorn, I have been able to navigate successfully, sharing experiences with others, receiving support and advice from experts. It has become more apparent as time goes by that there are no central services available to support parents of children with additional needs.  A great example being our Health Visitor who has had no contact since visiting Eloise at Hawthorn for her 27 month review over a year ago.  Being left in limbo is somewhat daunting. Hawthorn fills that gap. 

I will be forever grateful for the support we have received during our time at Hawthorn.  Although I will be sad when Eloise leaves (because Hawthorn can currently only support children up to their third birthday), we will take away the skills and knowledge that have set the foundations for our family going forward.

Thank you for everything.”

Leeds Mencap are a local and independent charity and we need to raise all our own funds. While affiliated to Royal Mencap Society (Mencap) the national charity, we receive no funding from them and receive no statutory or NHS funding for the Hawthorn service.

The charity is currently reaching out for donations to support Hawthorn and our Family Support work. Please donate online or contact us to see how you could get involved with fundraising or volunteering info@leedsmencap.org.uk0113 235 1331 to help us continue this vital support for people like Eloise and her family.  

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