As any parent knows, life with children can be pretty chaotic.
But when one of those children has a learning or physical disability, the world of the whole family is turned upside-down.
For the last 15 years, Coping with CHAOS has been helping just such families find their way, by providing not only a friendly, listening ear, but also a wide range of holiday activities – for all the family.
“I’m in a better place with my children because I came here,” says mum Carrie, who has been using the service, run by Dorset disability charity Diverse Abilities Plus, for around six years.
“It’s a whole family thing, it’s not just the disabled child. Everything else my son accesses is just for him, so the other kids get jealous. They all get to do stuff together, which is nice.
“There are things here that I would never have taken my disabled child to, like trampolining. It enables you to go to places like that.”
Coping with CHAOS provides trips and days out as well as sports and play opportunities, for children with disabilities, as well as their siblings and parents.
It also has a weekly youth club for teenagers with disabilities, called Awesome Nights, plus a befriending service, coffee mornings and CHAOS Juniors, a monthly stay and play session for disabled pre-schoolers.
The service joined Diverse Abilities in April 2011 and provides support to families with disabled children in Dorset up to the age of 19.
It was set up by two parents, Liz Morris and Anne Boyce, both of whom had children with disabilities and felt frustrated at the lack of services for disabled children and their families.
The first play session the pair organised involved 12 local families. Now, Coping with CHAOS supports more than 300 families across the county, with those involved in running the service primarily being parents of disabled children, and is seen as a “vital” lifeline for many.
“It’s quite isolating having a child with special needs,” explained Julie, mum to a seven-year-old with ADHD.
“You go to these mainstream activities and people just think your child is acting up, but if you come to the Coping with CHAOS things, your child is not stressed, everybody understands, nobody judges you.
“It’s good to swap information and achievements. Sometimes it’s quite hard to accept what’s happening with your child as well, so it’s nice to talk it through with other people.”
The service now also has a Facebook page, which mums find useful to vent their frustrations, share milestones and communicate with other parents who understand what they’re going through.
Having found Coping with CHAOS invaluable when her son was younger, Carrie now finds she is able to pass on her experiences to younger parents, who are finding themselves in the position she was six years ago.
“One thing I said so many times when I found out about William was ‘why me?’ You come here and you realise ‘there are lots of people like me’, it makes you feel better about things as well.
“You see mums come in and they’re confused and don’t want to admit what’s happening to their child. I can offer them advice as a mum who’s been there.
“You pretty much feel that you could turn up at this door at any time and you could speak to somebody, there would always be somebody to speak to. New mums need this place, they really need it.”
- To run Coping with CHAOS it costs £265,000 per year and therefore the service relies on grants, donations and volunteers. If you can help in any way, call 01202 855105, visit diverseabilitiesplus.org.uk or facebook.com/diverseabilitiesplus