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Creating a safe space


Creating a safe space

A Peregian mother couldn’t find the social support she wanted for her child with autism, so she opened a meeting place where Sunshine Coast children and their parents can relax and hang out together.

When Peregian mother Claire Gilmour’s son Cooper was diagnosed with autism in 2012, she realised there was a lack of support on the Sunshine Coast for families of children with autism, especially when it came to socialising. Since then, it has been her dream to create a beautiful, inclusive space where children of all ages can gather to play games and socialise in a nurturing, peaceful environment.

Eight weeks ago she finally realised her dream and opened Social Studio, located at The Sports Hub at Bokarina. It is a peaceful space where children from the ages of two to 19 who are living with ADHD, autism or social isolation can socialise in an environment that won’t be triggering or upsetting.

Ms Gilmour is the founder of the Autism Treehouse, which merged with STEPS in 2017, and The Social Studio was the next logical step to take.

“When I was with Treehouse, I realised there was such a huge need for social interaction for our kids,” she says.

“Our kids go through so much therapy and so many appointments. They watch their brothers and sisters go to sports and birthday parties. Our kids get a bit left out of that. Having the opportunity to create a space like this, which is beautiful, welcoming and calm, it will reduce that social isolation.

“When kids reach their teens, they can get very socially isolated, they can stay stuck in their rooms on their technology. If we can help these families and help teens connect with the community, it’s a win for us.”

Everything about the Social Studio is designed to be soothing to the senses, with a green wall that reduces noise, lights on dimmers and soft colour palettes and furnishings.

“We have kids that don’t want to leave,” says Ms Gilmour. “We keep hearing positive feedback from families. We had our first parent night the other night, with parents having wine and cheese while the kids watched a movie.

“A few families have moved up here from Melbourne and said there’s nothing like this, even in the big cities. There’s play gyms and therapy centres, but nothing socially. Nothing that helps kids build and make friends.”

The socialising happens around organised groups, including LEGO building sessions and virtual reality experiences. There are also social sessions where kids can just come and hang out with other kids and play board games, do some art or just chat and connect.

“During the day we’re opening it up for support workers to bring in their clients, just to give them something else to do,” says Ms Gilmour. “Or they can just sit in our sensory pod swings. Our social sessions in the afternoons are very popular and are broken into age groups.”

Ms Gilmour is thrilled with the response she’s received so far and hopes Social Studio will expand to other locations on the Sunshine Coast and even further afield.

“When my son was diagnosed I thought, ‘oh my goodness, will he ever have friends, will he ever get invited to a birthday party?’. Hopefully, through the Social Studio, I can help parents with children who are newly diagnosed through that journey.”

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Leigh Robshaw is a journalist who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years. Originally from Sydney, she has lived and worked in London, Tokyo and Latin America. She joined the team in 2012 and is MWP's deputy editor. Writing, reading and travel are her greatest passions.

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