It’s ‘Messy Play’ day at Summer House – and the backyard is filled with sandpits, water play games and inflatable pools full of coloured spaghetti or mud.
Dozens of young kids are playing, but it’s about more than just fun, according to All Abilities Mackay founder, Bec Nicol.
“We know how well peer-to-peer learning works for young kids, and the more social interaction kids with disabilities can have with their peers, the more likely they are to learn,” Ms Nicol said.
As the mother of a child with multiple disabilities, Bec created All Abilities Mackay to make sure her son, Reef, had better access to social engagement and learning through sensory play.
“In my opinion, social programs don’t work if they’re just for kids with disabilities. My son’s not going to learn social skills and none of the other kids with disabilities would learn any off my son. But here, our kids can model and practise engagement with neurotypical kids who come here,” she said.
“It’s also good for neurotypical kids to understand that they might see kids with disabilities and if they don’t look the same or walk the same, then it’s okay because everyone’s different.
“When people come here, they don’t actually know which kids have disabilities and which kids don’t. It’s set up so it’s equitable access for all.”
All Abilities founder Bec Nicol (right) pictured with team member Ray, says it is important for all children to see each other as equal.
Ms Nicol says the centre’s mainstream and specialised programs are having great results, as children choose different sensory environments that suit them.
“Whatever their need is, they’re met at that need and we extend on what they can do,” Ms Nicol said.
“Often we’ll see NDIS plans where kids are self-harming, biting or hitting themselves. But when they come here, we don’t see any of that behaviour. If kids are struggling, they can get on the jumping castle if they need some deep pressure heavy work, or go to the sensory den, which is filled with pillows, if they need a break.”
“When we play games, we discuss the rules first and use timers, so because there’s that scaffolding there’s no need for meltdowns.”
Bec says the best part of her job is seeing how kids with disabilities thrive through creative play. The All Abilities team pride themselves on creating a space where parents feel at ease to ask questions about their kid’s development.
“We were chatting to one family who was here for messy play, and mentioned to mum that her little one should be talking at this stage, and asked if she’d had his hearing checked,” Ms Nicol said.
“She then got him tested and he’s getting hearing aids now.
“If parents realise their kids are behind or they have a disability, then it doesn’t matter. That’s exactly why we’re here – to support young people with disabilities.”
All Abilities Mackay supports and advocates for individuals with disabilities and their families. They provide mainstream and specialised programs for kids aged up to 17 years at Summer House, a learning centre which promotes peer-to-peer learning and building social skills. Summer House is located at 2-4 Casey Ave, South Mackay.