An online appeal has been launched to find special toys and support for children with disabilities, who have had to flee with their families as bushfires descended on their homes.
- Liberal senator Hollie Hughes has issued a call-out for people to help the families of children with autism
- She said they might need help finding sensory toys to calm their children
- Disability experts believe part of the initial bushfire response will be explaining to children with disabilities what has happened
New South Wales senator Hollie Hughes issued a call-out to people in fire-ravaged communities through social media, asking them to get in touch with her office if they needed help finding sensory toys for children with autism.
“Children with autism like to have that certainty, and they like to have things that they know,” Senator Hughes said.
“And obviously, if you had to leave in a hurry … if you’ve got something that’s particularly special to that child, that might be an entire train set or a particularly big item, it might not have been something that you were able to grab on the way out the door.
“So it could have been a Thomas the Tank Engine train set through to their train timetables that might be a special interest, and [we are] trying to work with those families to see if we can help source those items for them again, to just make it a little bit easier for them in what’s a very, very challenging situation.”
The Liberal senator has a particular interest in supporting children with disabilities, given her own son Fred was diagnosed with autism a number of years ago.
Beyond providing specific items such as weighted blankets, which can calm children with autism, a number of large businesses have been in touch to offer support with more generic toys.
“A lot of promotional material are actually really good sensory toys,” Senator Hughes said.
“So those stress balls, fidget spinners, those sorts of things that people tend to put in conference bags or out of promotional tools, they’re actually great sensory-seeking tools for kids with autism.
“I’ve also had grandmas and mums of kids with autism in Brisbane reach out who are currently making weighted blankets, and just waiting for me to get in contact with them when families require weighted blankets.”
Helping explain the emergency situation to people with disabilities
While replacing lost belongings is important, disability experts say explaining to people with autism or communication disabilities what has actually happened needs attention as well.
One tool often used is called a “social story”, or a sequence of pictures created to explain the situation and reassure someone with a disability that they are safe.
Senator Hughes’s online appeal has also taken into account people needing help developing those tools, seeking to put the community in touch with professionals.
“These are things that could be helpful for people with autism in particular, whose routine is being changed, who don’t have access to their usual communication supports,” Bronwyn Hemsley, head of speech pathology at UTS, said.
“For example, the smoke and what does the smoke mean? And why might you need to wear a mask? And why does that mean you can’t play outside today?
“It’s going to be really important to have some tailored communication supports that will help people in their home right now, so we need people to say what they need.”
Professor Hemsley urged people to get in touch.
“It might be an interim thing, it might just tide them over until they have more access to longer-term solutions, but something that’s needed right now,” she said.
“It’s a matter of people asking, making a request and just letting us know, because people with communication problems often can’t ask for themselves.”