By Juliano Oliveira
“Children with disabilities face barriers to education, development, social and leisure opportunities that other children simply don’t. We don’t think that children living with disabilities have all the same opportunities as other kids in Australia right now. But that can change”.
Lisa Fruhstuck’s stance towards her community was decisive in driving her aspirations of creating the first and only play centre in Australia to cater to the needs of children and young adults with any kind of disability, including autism. The speech pathologist with two decades in the field of early childhood intervention, spent five years developing such an idea.
Known as Shine Early Intervention, the centre is located in Campbelltown, Sydney. Designed with purpose-built play equipment, a sensory room, and birthday party facilities, its structure allows for the support of people of all ages with disabilities and those with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). A team of therapists and well-trained staff to assist families using the facility and to provide support is also constantly on standby.
“Sensory processing disorder is a common feature of autism and other disabilities, it is when the nervous system has difficulty detecting, processing and responding to the sensory environment around it. However, there are specific activities that can assist in regulating a person’s sensory system, allowing them to better function and enjoy life,” explains Ms Fruhstuck.
The equipment utilized at Shine Early, Ms Fruhstuck highlights, is special, designed to meet sensory needs, help develop motor skills, and to encourage cooperation and social interaction. “We also have fun activities that kids can get involved in like Discos, Ninja Warrior, NERF battles, Arts and Crafts, Fitness Groups and Yoga! And we are ideal for birthday parties as well.”
Ms Fruhstuck believes that conventional play centres, which are great for most kids, aren’t ideal for kids living with a disability due to sensory overload, inappropriately designed activities, inaccessibility and a lack of understanding from the wider community.
“The wider community sometimes don’t understand the behavior of people with a disability and as a result, may exclude them. Kids with disabilities and their families are often too nervous to even open the door to conventional play centres due to the fear of their child having a meltdown or not being accepted,” Fruhstuck said.