A national disabled children’s charity has launched a Christmas appeal to help fund more pods of specialist toys, so children with disabilities and terminal illness who have difficulty using standard high street toys can experience the joy of play for themselves.
Newlife the Charity for Disabled Children provides Play Therapy Pods on loan for 12 weeks, with a variety of different pods available to suit different ages and developmental needs, which is vital to help children develop key skills as well as distract from pain and help the whole family bond.
The pods also help families discover which specialist toys their child responds to – which is particularly important with the cost of living spiralling – as specialist toys can be expensive, and families with disabled children are often unsure which toys will be of most benefit.
But, as each pod costs £400 – £500, there is often a waiting list, which is why Newlife has launched their Christmas campaign to help fund more pods, so more children can receive Play Therapy Pods when they need them most – just like Gabriella-Jayne Cutler from Telford in Shropshire.
Gabriella, aged two, was born with achondroplasia, often known as dwarfism, just like Ellie Simmonds, who is competing in this year’s BBC Strictly Come Dancing. This affects most aspects of her life and with shortened arms and legs and smaller hands, poor core and little neck control, it means she can only hold her head up for short periods and made even playing difficult – until she received the right specialist toys.
Gabriella has been able to sit up properly by herself for the first time and even play with her older brothers, Ben, Alex, and Samuel, thanks to toys in Play Therapy Pods, but for the first 12 months of her life Gabriella had to lay flat on her back as she was unable to sit up by herself and had a curve in her spine. Equipment such as a flat car seat and buggy helped with this, and at home Gabriella would lie flat on the floor, but became easily bored and frustrated and needed toys to distract her, as well as aid with her development.
Mum and dad, Laura and Ian, weren’t sure which toys would best meet Gabriella’s needs, as she finds it difficult to reach for toys and to hold and grasp objects, and have now tried three of Newlife’s Play Therapy Pods, Sensory Play, Animal Adventure, and Multi-Sensory Play, to discover which sensory toys work best for her.
Laura said: “We are loving trying out all the different toys. The sensory and interactive toys have really helped stimulate her interest in playing. She loved the toys that move and make a noise, such as the lizard in the animal pod which lit up. This encouraged her to reach out and grab the toys, which has improved her core muscles and stability.
“We have seen progress in her development since having the pods too, as she has been able to match animals with what sound they make. Now that she can sit up by herself, the most recent pod has toys which are appropriate for her to sit and play with.
“We will definitely be trying out as many pods as we can, as Gabriella loves them, and it has such a positive benefit for her. Her brother Samuel, who is four, has been helping her play – as it’s a new toy for them both he is also interested in playing and this has given them some wonderful bonding time as it was more difficult for them to play together before. It’s been a great way for the whole family to spend time together.
“The first time Gabriella sat up and played with Samuel, I cried. I think it was a mixture of relief and pure joy to see that she could sit and play like her peers. It was a very emotional moment for the whole family.”
Over the last ten years, Newlife has distributed over 9,000 Play Therapy Pods to disabled and terminally ill children all across the UK, with each pod costing between £400-500, but each capable of helping a huge number of children. With your support, Newlife will continue to give the gift of play to more children throughout 2023 and beyond.
Sally Insley, Head of Public Fundraising, said: “The toys in our Play Therapy Pods can be just as life changing as the disability equipment we provide for children through grants and loans. Finding the right toys for a child to respond to can lead to developmental leaps, children reaching out for the first time, saying their first words and even playing with siblings for the first time, creating magical memories many families never thought it would happen.
“We urgently need more pods so we can help more children and more families know that joy this Christmas.”
If you would like to ensure that more children like Gabriella can access Newlife’s Play Therapy Pod service, you can donate at https://newlife.social/GiveAGift or contact our fundraising team on 01543 462777
To apply for a Play Therapy Pod click here