YOUNG people with additional needs and disabilities are often overlooked in mainstream youth provision and feel excluded, unwelcome, or anxious on a daily basis. Our unique support is needed now more than ever as abundant research shows that populations including disabled and neurodivergent young people have been disproportionately affected throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Lessons Learnt From Lockdown’, the largest report on the impact of covid on disabled children, states the focus of their recovery should be re-engaging socially, getting used to being back in a routine, gaining confidence in peer relationships and having fun.
Me2 Club is an inclusion charity for children and young people aged 5-19 with additional needs and disabilities, regardless of a formal diagnosis, in the Wokingham and Reading Boroughs. Our purpose is to help tackle the loneliness and isolation they can often feel by assisting them to join in with mainstream leisure activities.
A Me2 Club Parent said:
“Doing activities with Me2 Club is one of the few things she enjoys doing. Her anxieties prevent her from joining in most things, but she has come to trust the Me2 Club team and really looks forward to doing things with them.”
To achieve our objective we proactively recruit, provide specialist training and support to passionate volunteer practitioners. We carefully buddy up our volunteers to individual young people, who require their direct involvement to access opportunities within their chosen youth activity. Without our unique support young people would be unable to take part in wide-ranging, and ongoing, youth activities, at consistent venues, including sports clubs, swimming and drama classes. With Activity Leaders requesting our support, in some groups, we have placed multiple volunteers and young people to greatly improve access, creating a ‘Club within a Club’.
Swim Development Manager said:
“I get to witness first-hand every week the great work the volunteers do in the swimming pool with young people who we would not be able to accommodate in mainstream lessons without their time, patience, expertise and all-around greatness!”
Most of our volunteers are young people themselves and are recruited via presentations at schools and colleges. They are well trained in ensuring improved access and that activity sessions are delivered appropriately. Volunteers find that Me2 Club provides unique experiences that often lead to careers working with young people or in health and social care.
As dire as it was, the COVID-19 pandemic has done us some service in raising awareness of the challenges these vulnerable groups face routinely, even without the extra challenges of lockdown. The sense of disconnection, loneliness and isolation experienced so keenly throughout the wider community as a consequence of the lockdown is, sadly, something this group deals with on a day-to-day basis.
In addition to coming to terms with the same trials we all faced during this period – missing our friends and family, dealing with the fear of an unknown virus and sometimes even coping with the loss of a loved one – COVID-19 has had a special and lasting impact for children with additional needs and their families.
Emerging from lockdown there is a strong requirement to recognise the specific challenges children with additional needs and their families have faced during this period, understand how it may manifest during the transition back to ‘normal’ day to day life and respond to those factors inclusively as part of the provision of mainstream activities.
The transition out of lockdown, while welcome, presents a difficult time of adjustment. The support Me2 Club provide ranges from easing social anxiety to managing challenging behaviours, and now we want to leverage our specialist experience to help Activity Leaders to achieve even better engagement with children and young people with additional needs.
We have written a free briefing document that we’re giving away to activity providers to help them understand some of the simple measures they can adopt to help children who are neurodiverse or live with disabilities to join in and contribute to mainstream leisure activities, getting back some of the childhood they’ve lost over the last couple of years.
Visit our website to download your copy now.
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