Special Needs Network

Through regular outreach visits to the Abermain Public School play group, Cessnock-based Ability Links coordinator Cherie Pauling met the schools’ engagement coordinator, Cheryl-Ann Leggatt. 

Cheryl-Ann supports community engagement at the school and runs a weekly playgroup for school-based families and local community members to attend.

Cheryl-Ann had previously run a support group for parents of children with additional needs at the school called the Special Needs Network. Feedback from the families she was working with was that they would benefit from some extra support, prompting her to explore her options around re-establishing the network. She invited Ability Links to support her.

Her goal was to run a coffee and chat meeting for a couple of hours on the last Thursday of every month during school terms. Participants could bring a plate to share and chat about their issues.

Cheryl-Ann asked Cherie to attend to provide information about local groups and workshops and also to help link families to support if needed.

The meetings were small but there were several topics discussed repeatedly. 

When the group was asked if they would like more information about those topics and how that would look they all agreed on a workshop or presentation. A short survey revealed that anxiety was clearly at the top of the list for everyone and so that was selected as the first workshop topic.

Our challenge was to find a suitable presenter and to fund the venture. 

Inspiration was sought from Families Supporting Families, a group which had recently hosted Craig Moore, Clinical Psychologist, at a workshop regarding anxiety. Many families had been interested but were unable to attend. Families Supporting Families happily supplied Craig Moore’s details and he was delighted to get involved.  Craig quoted us a generous rate.

We agreed to charge $10 per family in the hope we would get 25 people interested in attending to cover Craig’s costs. Cheryl-Ann did up a flyer and we distributed it to all our networks, including local businesses and events.

Ability Links approved a request for $100 to allow us to cater by providing afternoon tea.

More than 30 people attended the workshop. The attendees were asked to complete a survey seeking feedback about what other topics that would be of interest, and what sort of ‘take home’  tools or messages they gleaned from Craig’s presentation.

The feedback included the following:

“positive experiences and extending the comfort zone”

“everything- brain connection with anxiety and behaviour.”

“learning to do small steps to learn how to feel safe”

“deep breathing, don’t try to reason when anxiety is at it’s worst”

The information contained in the completed surveys will inform the organisers as to a suitable topic for the next workshop.

The plan is to host the next workshop during the second term of 2017. 

“We feel that the workshop has raised awareness of what anxiety is and how those suffering from it can be supported,” Cherie said.

“Many attendees work in child care and education so we hope this information will be passed on and used to support many children in the future.”