The girls and I recently enjoyed a trip to the Donkey Sanctuary (Templepatrick, Belfast), about an hour’s drive from our house.
We had arranged to meet with my friend and her family there, who also have a little girl with additional needs.
It was their first time too, so it was nice to share the new experience together!
I really am thankful that we can talk openly and frankly about our needs, fears and disability, and just everything that goes with being a momma of a child with special needs.
Both of our youngest girls are 4 and although they have vastly different diagnoses and needs, we share this common bond of a struggle with their unique needs and medical issues.
It’s so important as a parent of a child with additional needs to get people around you with whom you can share and confide in.
Friends who get where you are coming from, by their own experiences with disability.
And while I think sharing and getting advice on online forums like Firefly Garden for instance, is great and has its place, those face-to-face times of shared experiences and conversation are really invaluable.
Getting back to the Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre (otherwise known as The Donkey Sanctuary)…they host a weekly Wednesday club and monthly Saturday club, for children with additional needs and their siblings.
The idea is children with special needs get wonderful donkey-assisted therapy and their siblings can join in the fun with the donkeys too!
On their website they state the benefits of this type of therapy: this unique and effective form of assisted therapy helps improve confidence, self-esteem, major and minor motor skills, core balance and gives children a real sense of achievement.
The Sanctuary is very accessible with wheelchair access and ramps in all areas, and disabled toilets and changing areas.
They have a great outdoor play area, with room for wheelchairs or walkers and a large soft mat.
Also they have a new indoor sensory area with interesting light and sound effects.
Brielle wears cochlear implants and also hates to wear hats or helmets.
Although we tried a helmet on her, it was soon clear that she was not going to keep it on.
They said that she could go without, as long as two volunteers held onto her.
They used a belt around her to help her sit upright as they held onto her.
There were some tears and looks of confusion at first, and then she seemed to about tolerate the ride.
I did talk to her about donkeys and going for a ride, and let her touch a couple donkeys beforehand, but there’s nothing to substitute for actually experiencing being on the donkey.
I would recommend the Sanctuary to anyone who can make a trip to the center in Belfast or find your local centre. It’ll be well worth it! Check out www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk
I do hope Brielle remembers what being on a donkey feels like now that she’s experienced it, and starts to enjoy the ride more the next time we go!
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