How to plan a play-date for a child with a disability
Nicole Cochrane, a mother of two amazing little girls, shares the daily life and experiences of her daughter Ayala who has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy.
My daughter, Ayala, is the youngest of my twin girls. She was born prematurely and as a result of negligence from the hospital, has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. She is nine years old.
Ayala cannot do anything for herself physically. She has the same physical abilities as a six-month-old baby. Cognitively, she is an extremely bright, stubborn, determined, funny, feisty little minx.
We live in a three bedroom house, with Ayala having her own bedroom and wet-room downstairs. I think people often presume that my house resembles a hospital, or that every aspect of it has been adapted for Ayala. It does not and it has not.
Don’t get me wrong, we have a hallway and a shed FULL of equipment for her, but apart from the hoist in her bedroom, it looks like any other child’s room. Full of toys and books. I have had downstairs made open-plan for her to be able to get around in her powered wheelchair - but open-plan living is the ‘in thing' so it’s no different to many other houses in our area.
Ayala is a typical girly girl. She loves playing with her sister and expresses notable ‘leadership skills’ as she instigates and directs most of the play scenarios that they enact. From a very young age, both girls knew what Cerebral Palsy is and what it meant.
I have never set limitations on Ayala’s abilities. At her young age she has lived a wonderful life and been able to do things that people would not expect her to be able to do; roller-skating, ice-skating, bowling, indoor sky-diving, diving, been in a helicopter, on a two-person plane, abseiling and zip-lining to name a few.
Ayala's favourite games
Having a child with a disability can leave you feeling very isolated. The girls have lots of friends between them but we find that we are not asked on play-dates, as other parents are nervous about having Ayala or maybe think it will be too much work.
So play-dates are often at my house, which is fine but becomes a bit monotonous for the twins. Children are a lot more laid back. One child said, “We live in a flat but it’s okay, we can carry Ayala upstairs and she can lay on the floor.”
While most parents would probably think this just isn’t good enough... Ayala would love this! The innocence and naivety of children is a beautiful blessing and questions they ask or suggestions they make often leave me saying “Yes, okay. Why not?”
When it comes to playing Ayala is happy just being around other children and watching. One of her favourite things to do is to watch YouTube videos of children playing with toys. Or to direct me or her sister playing with a toy in the way she would like us to.
Recently we purchased a Velcro Catch ball game and attached the Velcro pad to Ayala’s wheelchair. She loves ‘catching’ the ball, moving her wheelchair to attempt to ‘catch’ the ball.
We also had a trampoline installed in the ground, meaning she can be pushed onto the trampoline in her wheelchair and bounced. She can equally lay on a trampoline and likes others jumping around her.
The Good Toy Guide's games for an inclusive play-date
I hope you’re feeling as inspired as I am by Ayala’s wonderful game ideas!
Don’t be afraid to dip into your child’s favourite toys and games, or just ask what they think their friend would like to play.
Board and card games make for great entertainment at a play-date. One of my favourites to recommend is Chicken Out! By Gibsons, which is a twist on the classic card game 21.
There’s a touch of maths involved so it can be a bit of a challenge even for the adults (yes, you can join in too…). The cheeky foxes keep you on your toes as well - they can really make or break your chances of winning!
Creative stuff is also a big hit with children but doesn’t feel like you need to plan anything - a good choice of materials will keep them quiet for hours.
Double the children means double the mess, so if you don’t fancy that you might want to consider trying the reusable Colorforms stickers, a pack of Bunchems for some 3D artwork or Crazy Aaron’s make your own putty kit or any youngsters who are into slime.
How to plan your own play-dates
As a parent of a child with a disability, all I care about is that Ayala can get into a house. Whether that be through a window, over a fence, under a hedge - I don’t care! As long as she can get in and sit or lay somewhere she will be happy.
She will not break. Yes, my child has a disability, but in our case, we are lucky in that she is no more fragile than any other child. In fact, she is strong and extremely resilient - more so than her twin sister!
What to plan? Most parents, whether your child has a disability or not, will do their own planning. So if you have a child who only eats certain foods, you pack a lunch. If your child likes a particular toy, you may pack that.
It is no different having a child with a disability. The parent will pack what the child needs, whether it be a snack, toy, nappy, medication or a full-blown medical kit, including an oxygen tank!
What to expect? Really - who knows?
Either the kids will be in another room and play nicely and that CVC word (mum) won’t be heard for hours. OR you will be called constantly and not get a chance to finish the cup of tea your mummy friend made you two hours ago because your child is acting like the spawn of Satan. She may need positioning to make her comfortable or ask for a drink or snack because she can’t get it herself. But is that different from any other child?
The bottom line is, a play-date for a child with a disability is no different and it does not need to be any different. Any type of play is accessible. The limits are only in our own minds.”
Ayala has been incredibly lucky - with the support of some very generous people she has got herself some amazing bits of kit including a spiffy new chair, an eye-gaze control tablet (with Minecraft of course) and a Neater Eater.
Images and videos owned by Nicole Cochrane and used with permission.
This post was written by Anna Taylor