Discovering that your child is neurodivergent can be both a challenging and uncertain time, but it also opens up new experiences and community connections for your family. We chat with Kristy Thompson from Bright Start Specialised Early Learning, who shares the daily life of a neurodivergent child in daycare and the bright future that awaits kids with the right early intervention.
What would your advice be for a family that has recently had a neurodivergent diagnosis for their child?
Stay in the now! Do not look to the future and waste your valuable energy worrying about all the things that may possibly happen (because they probably won’t!). Take one day at a time, trust that you are very capable, and never give up! Just because your child cannot communicate back does not mean that they are not taking it all in. I know of a celebrity on TV that never spoke a word until he was eight years old. Now this person is incredibly successful! If that family had given up, it could be a different story.
Why is early intervention so important for neurodivergent kids?
Because the sooner we start, the sooner we can figure out where the barriers lay and the sooner we can teach how to overcome these barriers. You show me a barrier, and I will show you a way to overcome this barrier.
So with the right early intervention, can ASD kids go on to lead a fulfilling life?
Absolutely! Because we get in early, we get kids on track sooner, even non-verbal kids. There are so many new ways for our kids to communicate with us. For example, one mum recently told us that she heard her non-verbal son’s voice for the first time when she drove him through Mcdonald’s. She asked him what he wanted through PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), and he passed her a picture of chicken nuggets. She cried because that was the very first time he spoke to her. This is this little boy’s voice box; we have taught him to talk using his pictures. Now we will upgrade to an iPad where he will learn to sequence his pictures and press a button, and the iPad will say something such as, ‘Mum, can I please have a drink of water.’
Every achievement, whether great or small, is a success story to us! It could be that a child can finally go to the toilet independently, or a child is now equipped with a number of calming strategies so they no longer throw tantrums, or we watch for the first time two children interact with each other and ask questions to each other and respond appropriately to each other. These are the success stories; the impact of how they will use this for the rest of their lives are the achievements we celebrate. These little moments are what make the work we do so worthwhile.
It must be a lifesaver for families to have therapy access and daycare in one place. How has it impacted the lives of Bright Start families?
Families love that they can access daycare and therapy in one setting, as it alleviates appointment fatigue. Many families find themselves juggling weekly sessions with speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and physiotherapists. Furthermore, some therapists assign additional ‘homework’ to be done outside therapy. When you multiply these demands by several therapists, it can feel as though caring for a child with a disability becomes akin to taking on another full-time job, which can also have a detrimental impact on parents’ employment.
At Bright Start, we ease this burden by offering dedicated therapy spaces within our centre. This arrangement allows external therapists to conduct individualised therapy sessions for each child right here on our premises. Additionally, our skilled daycare team incorporates the necessary homework into our daily program. By providing these services, we significantly alleviate the pressure on parents, enabling them to focus on other aspects of their lives without compromising their child’s care and development.
What does a typical day look like for a student at Bright Start?
We run a typical daycare program, but the thing I love about our program is our routine and how creative our team is with that. Just like most kids, our kids need to feel safe with predictability. We sing many songs and tell many stories to engage our little learners, all using handmade resources.
In regard to therapy, each child receives two group times—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We program each group session around a focus goal, for example, recognising emotions in others and self, such as happy and sad.
Therefore we may sing ‘If you are angry and you know it stamp your feet’, read stories on the different emotions or role-play different emotions using sympathy puppets.
Outside of the two group therapy sessions, we also deliver one-on-one therapy with each child. They have their own individualised program, and we work on overcoming a particular barrier every day. This could be teaching a child how to invite a peer to play in a preferred activity or communication strategies. Everything we do is play-based, and the children have no idea they are in therapy because we make it so much fun. For example, our therapy room is called the adventure room—we make it so much fun that they always want to come to the adventure room!
Is the world becoming more accepting and creating more opportunities for neurodiverse people?
Yes! I think the world is acknowledging that everyone has diverse abilities. For example, some young children are human calculators and can multiply huge numbers that I have to check with a calculator, and they are spot on! We all have abilities in one form or another, which is the focus: What a person CAN do instead of what they can not do.
We know that Bright Start is so much more than a childcare service! Tell me about the community that exists there for families…
We are a safe haven for our children and families, no judgement, we get it! You can tell us anything, and we won’t bat an eyelid because we have heard it and seen it all before! We love what we do and want to be here for these children. All of our staff specifically want to work with children with disabilities, unlike other childcare services where sometimes children with a disability can be seen as a hindrance. We love the quirkiness our gorgeous students bring to the service every day.
Also, through our centre, families build a network of families also going through the same things you are. They go to each other’s birthday parties, the parents become friends, it’s a lovely extra layer to our centre that makes all the difference to our families.
Sounds wonderful! How do families join?
We currently have availability every day, so call us! Come and have a look, get a feel for the centre. If you think it is the right fit, we’d love for you to enrol your child, and we can help them transform into the incredible little human we know is inside.
0447 502 558
84 Tallow Wood Drive Kuluin 4558