A couple of weeks ago I attended the Ballarat Autism Expo as an exhibitor. This had been suggested to me by an Occupational Therapist (OT) I met at my regular Bowral Public School Market. She had identified some of the basic features of my fine motor skills activities for children, as a genuine benefit to supporting therapeutic activities for special needs children.
This was not the first time an OT or special needs carer had commented on the beneficial features of my little kits, so I decided to take a chance and make the 12-hour drive down the Hume Highway to Victoria’s third largest city and the home of the Gold Rush.
In addition to historic Sovereign Hill, Ballarat is also the hub for support and activities for special needs children and families in the greater Grampian regions of Victoria – and very cold when it’s not summer!
Despite the weather, we had a great turn-out for a regional event. The families and carers I met at the expo had two key things in common: their passionate belief that all children have the right to reach their potential; and a thirst for understanding, support and resources. Accessing support – be it financial or practical – is complex and often requires long waiting periods.
However, that weekend there was a reprieve: in this one space, there were hundreds of us networking and sharing stories; people with products and services who genuinely want to help make a positive difference in the lives of special needs families…and yes, the local NDIS were there and very informative.
It has been so encouraging to learn that with Shapeeze, I have created a valuable resource for families already bogged-down with the challenges and complexities of finding support for parenting their special needs child. I have learned that sourcing activities for special needs children can be fraught with difficulties as some may be great for developing fine motor skills but provide sensory processing challenges. Over the past 12 months, OTs and parents of special needs children have identified some of the simple tasks undertaken when completing Shapeeze activities – such as tearing out the pages when choosing a template and little rips in the paper when pressing-out the perforated shapes – assist with desensitising their special needs child to auditory and tactile processing challenges.
When I first came up with the concept of Shapeeze, my inspiration was my 4-year-old middle child who wanted to do similar activities to those her older sister brought home from school, but Little Miss Independent didn’t want my help – which as a working mum of 3 was fine by me, however everything I found had instructions or a long narrative and – in my experience – not too many 4-year-olds have the ability or inclination to read more than a couple of words at a time. So, in addition to ensuring the activities could be completed independently and with little instruction, I also bore a couple of other influential experiences in mind.
1. My experience as a foster-carer, with a child with developmental delays – most significantly fine motor skills, who couldn’t hold a cereal spoon adequately even at 8 years of age.
2. My experience as a reading-support volunteer – specifically a 6-year-old sitting on his hands whining that reading was “dumb”, “lame”, “boring”, etc I remember feeling really sad for him and thinking “If this is what you think now – what will school look like for you at 16?!” This child didn’t know their alphabet and couldn’t even begin to identify and sound out what he was looking at on the page but was too embarrassed or scared to say so…
…Was this child going to fall through the cracks? Become labelled by teachers as a trouble-maker and become disengaged with learning as a whole? Would this child leave school at the earliest opportunity only to find there were no jobs due to their poor literacy and numeracy skills and fall into crime and drugs…?!! You’re right – you really don’t want to be inside my mind sometimes – I did think all of that.
Despite these influences, I didn’t intentionally create a with a view to target this market – families struggling to find suitable and affordable support in these areas for their special needs child. Which is why the suggestions and subsequent invitation to exhibit at the Autism Expo was such a lovely surprise…. I’m so pleased.
Throughout my journey to bring Shapeeze to market I’ve consulted with several professionals, parents and carers who influenced my decision-making to ensure the simple tasks and designs I created, could reach out to a broad range of little minds and encourage them to have the confidence to try something for themselves. In staying true to my passion to try to contribute to helping children in care access basic literacy and numeracy activities and resources to give them a more confident start to their school years, I had also created useful occupational therapy activities for children – notably, activities for special needs children.
I feel grateful, to be honest, it’s a bit of a privilege. I have had my fair share of parental-fails and melt-downs; I am in awe of parents of children with special needs and my 24-hour round-trip was worth it. I met some gorgeous children and inspiring parents; the expo reinforced how Shapeeze is a good occupational therapy resource providing fun and therapeutic fine motor skills activities for special needs children.