Mounthamilton House provides a haven for children with special needs
The sound of a popular nursery rhyme resonates throughout the halls of Mounthamilton House as staff of the Early Intervention Team welcome children to a weekly group session for children with special needs.The historic building, once a residential centre for disabled adults, comes alive now with the sound of children playing and parents guiding them through the exercises which physiotherapist Maria Heatley has developed to suit their individual abilities and requirements.
The sound of a popular nursery rhyme resonates throughout the halls of Mounthamilton House as staff of the Early Intervention Team welcome children to a weekly group session for children with special needs.
The historic building, once a residential centre for disabled adults, comes alive now with the sound of children playing and parents guiding them through the exercises which physiotherapist Maria Heatley has developed to suit their individual abilities and requirements.
The Louth based team, established in 2001 by the North Eastern Health Board treats around 150 children, between its two centres in Dundalk and Drogheda, and in many ways the first thing which strikes any casual observer is the need for additional space at Mounthamilton house.
But as Ann Hynes, Co-ordinator of the Early Intervention Team explains, it is an exciting time for the centre, with new facilities planned for 2005. “The construction works going on at the moment will provide us with a new Sensory Integration room which is being added at the rear of the building here, which we’re very much looking forward to having access to.”
The introduction of a new Disability Bill has also improved the possibility of more support for units such as those operating at Mounthamilton House, but as to how it will translate into practical assistance, the team are not yet aware.
Children referred to the Early Intervention Team may have physical and/or learning disabilities or have been diagnosed with a developmental delay.
Either way, it is a place to provide them with a chance not only to advance their abilities, but to develop social skills from interaction with other young children.
“The following range of services are provided for children, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, nurse/counsellor, social worker, educational psychologist and occupational therapy,” Ann explained.
“But a very important part of the service is that it helps children to interact with others, and it encourages them to develop social skills.”
For parents too it is a place to meet with other parents who have shared experiences, and to discuss their own concerns with therapists.
“We consider parents very much part of the team, they have to be in order to help their children progress on a daily basis. The work that is done here with the kids has to be incorporated into their daily lives, so parents are a vital part of that.”
The “goal” for the Early Intervention team is to help children reach their full potential, explains Physiotherapist Maria, as she observes the progress made by little Rebecca Brodigan.
Mum Tara agrees, pointing out that the positive effect on the little four year old’s personality has been obvious, as she has adjusted well to pre school.
Closeby, little John Campbell is practising his co-ordination and motor skills with some of the toys which are designed to aid children’s development.
John has definitely improved since he began with the Early Intervention Team, and there is a lot of support too for parents, especially as you meet other people who understand what you’re going through.”
Indeed, such is the level of mutual support and co-operation that the support group SNAP (Special. Needs. Active. Parents.) has been formed by parents whose children attend Mounthamilton House. Support for the Early Intervention team has come in various forms, such as from a donation by the Dundalk Firemen’s fund which has helped the team to purchase additional toys and equipment for the physiotherapy unit.
But she admits there are “limitations” on the team, saying “It’s not perfect, but we do the very best with the resources we do have. Although we do understand the frustrations that parents have,” says Ann.
As the session ends, and parents begin the often difficult process of removing children from a room filled with toys and friendly playmates, the benefits of care provided by the Early Intervention team suddenly becomes clear....