Extraordinary Child

Providing a Positive, Therapeutic Environment for Special Needs Families

A ten-year-old girl, Bre, who appears to be just like any other child on the outside, goes outside after school to play with others. In her mind, neighborhood children are her best friends. Many times, her mother will find her alone. The child will say, “They had to get something and will be right back.” Her mother will sigh because she knows it’s just a ploy to get away from her daughter; they never come back. Yet, this child insists they are friends and insists on trying to play with them. It is simply heartbreaking.

The reality is Bre has Asperger’s, ADHD, severe anxiety, and several major medical issues. It is not only the child’s social life that is affected, but it is also her family; they feel like they are alone on the sidelines watching the world move forward.

This one family is just an example of the millions of families with special needs (medical and mental health). Each one of them has the same things in common with typical families: they want to have friends, feel like they belong, have fun, and have places they can go to satisfy these needs. It is not always a simple task to take an autistic child to the zoo, to bring a physically disabled child to a playground, or to incorporate a child with mental illness into a sporting team.  In fact, these simple actions can prove very challenging and overwhelming for these children and their families.

Bre visits Extraordinary Child a few times a week. She uses the sensory-safe quiet room to help calm her nerves and panic attacks, she lets her creativity flow in the art room, and, most importantly, she has made friends. Her mother feels at peace knowing that the other parents will not judge her if her child has a meltdown. Her mother has made friends with other parents and has found the support she needs.

Seven years ago, a group of special needs parents, led by Jennifer Gingras, decided to create Extraordinary Child, a non-profit whose mission is to unite and strengthen special needs families and individuals representing all types of disabilities by providing them with positive social experiences in a therapeutic play setting. The group worked for six long years to fundraise, plan and design their dream. In 2013, the group took a brave step and opened their first small facility in Smithfield.

The facility has play areas for gross motor, fine motor, sensory input, cognitive, and social play that are designed to enhance the growth of all children. Families can make friends, socialize, find emotional support and participate in sensory-enriched play, and so much more. They can do all of this in a safe and non-judgmental environment without a need for insurance. EC firmly believes that every child is unique and should be free to be themselves.

The first year has proved very challenging because they struggle to obtain funding. They have built a strong core of amazing volunteers who work hard to keep the facility up and running. Currently, there is not a single paid employee at this non-profit. Plus, the children and families that have been helped only serve to strengthen their resolve to pursue Extraordinary Child’s mission despite any obstacles. Basic items such as office supplies come from these hero’s homes and own pockets.

Extraordinary Child has an extraordinary vision and mission, but they could use help in many different areas: monetary and item donations, volunteers, business advice and expertise, media support, website maintenance, and much more. To learn more, you can visit their website at  www.extraordinarychild.org.

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Avatar About the Author: The Rhode Island Small Business Journal is a printed monthly magazine and an online resource for the aspiring and start-up entrepreneur and small business owner.

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