Meet the mum who launched a gym for kids with complex needs in Easterhouse

Posted: 25th March 2022

Mum-of-four Sharon Craighead launched Chattersense to help children with complex needs explore their senses, learn new skills and make friends – and it’s the best thing she has ever done.

 

“I decided to just go and do it. I was out of work, I was qualified, and no one else was helping these families. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and we’re making such a difference. I love it.”

Mum-of-four Sharon Craighead launched Chattersense CIC, a social enterprise for children with complex needs in Easterhouse last October a year after losing her fundraising job at a charity during lockdown.

The 49-year-old has been juggling an MSC in Sensory Integration from Sheffield University with her passion project helping dozens of vulnerable families across the west of Scotland.

She focuses on using therapeutic play and hands-on learning according to the Ayres Sensory Integration system, which proposes that sensory processing is linked to emotional regulation, learning, behaviour, and participation in daily life.

Sharon kicked off her summer project Sense of Adventure, bringing out equipment from the boot of her car. Now, she runs a sensory-motor gym in one of Scotland’s most deprived areas where children can touch, listen, climb and play.

There are swings, a ball pool, a climbing wall and monkey bars among many other facilities to help young people explore their senses – and make some friends too.

“It’s about working out how to improve their development through play, recreating those missed milestones,” she said. “We help kids of all abilities work with their hands, improve their balance and concentration and builds their social skills.”

 

She added: “Some of the children that come to us find it difficult to make sense of their world. They are living in a constant state of fight and flight.

 

“Imagine being on your nerves 24/7 and not understanding 80 per cent of what’s going on around you. Of course you’re going to be anxious.

“We help them take risks in a safe environment and learn that it’s okay to have a higher heart rate. That adrenaline is good for us sometimes.

“Many kids with really complex needs need a more hands-on approach that the NHS doesn’t give them. Children with severe autism are excluded virtually everywhere.”

 

Sharon was forced to quit her job as an occupational therapist in the NHS after 25 years in 2011 when she began experiencing health issues looking after her youngest son, who has Down Syndrome and is Registered Blind.

“I was paralysed and went blind for about three weeks, basically, due to sleep deprivation as Sean had sleep apnea. It was absolutely awful,” she said. “It took two years to diagnose me with Labyrinthitis and migraines – and I think it was mostly down to my emotional state.”

 

She recalls being told by a speech therapist that Sean, aged three, had reached the limit of his communication. She chose to use her skills and experience round-the-clock to make the most of her youngest son’s development.

Today, 14-year-old Sean goes to school, drama classes and can dress himself without help. He is also very sporty; he is a keen swimmer and recently learned to ride a bike with his best pal, Aiden Jaconelli, at Glasgow Green.

 

“When you’re a mum of a child with disability, you’re just told to get on with it. The NHS are brilliant in a crisis but they take a largely universal approach. Cutbacks also mean quality of life is swept under the carpet. That’s when I decided I could help my son and others too instead of moaning about it.”

 

While running the group single-handedly is tough, Sharon said seeing how children grow in confidence is the most rewarding part of her work.

She said: “One mum recently got in touch to say they can now go to restaurants as a family with their son. They couldn’t really go out for a meal before. Those stories keep me going on really hard days. I love seeing the smiles on their faces.

“I want to make people’s lives easier and happier – and not just for kids with complex needs themselves, but their siblings too. They are often forgotten about.

Source: Glasgow Live

 

 

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