‘Oliver felt safe and as a parent that’s the main thing you want’
Nicola tells us about Oliver’s Leeds Mencap journey
To say that the Hawthorn playroom at Leeds Mencap was beneficial for Oliver in his first few years is a huge understatement. I’m so grateful to the two Mums who recommended Leeds Mencap to me, after having attended with their own children. It has been invaluable for both me and Oliver.
We started going when Oliver was just 5 months old and went weekly, every Friday for almost 3 years. We attended other groups too, some for children with additional needs, some not, but this was the first place Oliver was alone in a setting without me. This took a while for him to get used to and to settle in, but he soon got used to the staff and became familiar with the other children and loved spending time there. I equally enjoyed spending a few hours in the parents’ room; a chance to relax, moan, laugh, talk, listen, and enjoy a coffee with other parents who understood the ups and downs, without the need for any explanations. It also gave me a chance to get valuable information and advice from experienced staff and other parents, which I genuinely don’t think I would’ve got anywhere else.
During his time at Hawthorn, Oliver achieved lots of fantastic milestones, gross motor skills like crawling and walking, fine motor skills through various activities and we saw his communication skills improve. Time there also gave him some independence from me and gradually built his confidence around other children and making friends.
In the early days, I remember Oliver spent a lot of time in the Sensory Room when things became a bit noisy for him. He was encouraged to have a go at everything, whilst also working towards his next steps and targets, which were always discussed and agreed with me, ensuring I felt included and heard. Everything is broken down into smaller, easier to achieve steps. I found this particularly helpful for working on things with Oliver at home, as well as the many tips (and encouragement) I got on things where I felt we were making slow progress. The team at Leeds Mencap were able to offer advice on things, which I either wasn’t aware of or wouldn’t have come across on my own. They were also able to offer resources from the playroom to help Oliver, things that we could keep practising with Oliver at home or during the holidays.
There are often such a wide range of abilities in the room on any given day, some children with additional health issues, but nothing is too difficult for the specialist staff to deal with and nothing stops them including all the children in everything. The staff would always take the time to ask how Oliver’s week had been and were genuinely interested to hear the good and bad, whether he had been ill or had achieved something new. The room at Leeds Mencap has a great positive energy that comes from the staff and that’s reflected in how happy the children are too, and how much trust parents like me have in leaving their children in the playroom. Oliver felt safe and as a parent that’s the main thing you want, but at the same time, I knew that he was valued individually and was being pushed to do the best that he could.
I still miss that feeling, of knowing that no matter how exhausting or bad the week had been, there was still Hawthorn to look forward to on a Friday!
Nicola, Mum of Oliver