A child's right to play is so important it is included in The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and this week as part of Deafblind Awareness Week, we want to focus on access to equal play opportunities for families that we support.
When imagining life with their future children, prospective parents inevitably think about fun times they are going to have together - playing ball, building sandcastles, dancing to their favourite music.
In many ways, play and shared fun activities become the glue that holds families together even when the going gets tough. Games shared by siblings create bonds that last through lifetimes. Through play, children learn how to express emotion, engage with others and build a sense of belonging, while at the same time becoming more independent.
But what happens when the reality is different to how we imagined it? Children who are deafblind and those with complex disabilities often struggle to communicate and interact with others and join in the world around them. Parents worry about establishing a bond with their child in their early years, don't feel confident about the best way to develop their child's skills or how to communicate effectively with. How do parents play with a child who may be unwilling or unable to explore their environment and interact with other people through touch? Imaginative play is an important developmental milestone. How can you imagine being a pirate if you can't see, hear, understand and ultimately play pirates?
At Sense we estimate there are at least 21,000 children in the UK, who have experienced some level of sight and hearing difficulties. A greater number will have additional complex disabilities. These are the children that require specialist support and approaches to teaching, learning and developing independence. Sadly due to the uneven provision of support, children with multi-sensory impairments or complex needs frequently miss out on play opportunities, which impacts on their educational and social development. And when the first developmental milestones are missed, the support that these children will need in the future is going to be extensive and costly.
At Sense we run support groups, we provide parents with specialist information and advice on how to play with their child, we operate specialist play centres and playgroups that enable families and children to come together yet there is still more to be done. We want to see policy makers to place a greater priority on the importance of play and more services commissioned to meet the needs of children who are deafblind and with complex disabilities. Investment in play will give the greatest opportunity to learn, develop and deliver lasting improvement in children's lives. And the sooner these families get support, the quicker they can learn to support their child themselves.
A new report published by Sense this week (www.sense.org.uk/play ) states that parents of deafblind and disabled children need more support in getting better access to play opportunities for their children.
It says that parents frequently struggle to engage with their child and do not know how to use play and establish a bond in the early years, whilst the lack of availability of suitable play groups and play spaces is an additional barrier to parents finding play opportunities for their child.
The launch of the report marks the beginning of a year-long Sense campaign that will investigate the barriers to play faced by disabled children, as well as what can be done to break those barriers down.
As part of the report, Sense has made a range of practical recommendations that can already be implemented by families and professionals. We are also calling on local authorities to implement a range of solutions to help improve play opportunities for children who are deafblind and have complex needs.
In September, we will launch an inquiry into play, collecting evidence via public polling, survey data and through evidence sessions involving families of deafblind and disabled children in the UK.
Sense was set up as a charity by a group of families fighting for a better life for their deafblind children and our Play campaign is a continuation of that work. Please support us in making equal play a reality for all our children, visit www.sense.org.uk/dbaw for more information. Follow DBAW on social media #DBAW2015 #playalong.