Welcome to PlayConnect Playgroups

PlayConnect Playgroups are designed to support the diverse needs of families with children with an ASD or ASD-like characteristics.

PlayConnect playgroups are about connecting you with other carers and families who have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD) or who displays ASD-like characteristics such as developmental delays in areas such as speech, communication, social, sensory or behavioural development.

The relaxed playgroup atmosphere allows you time to share stories, advice and information as well as provide play opportunities that are flexible and tailored to the needs of your child.

What is a Playgroup?

Playgroup is an informal gathering of mums, dads, grandparents, caregivers, children and babies. You have the opportunity to chat, have a coffee and play. At playgroup caregivers stay with their child as this provides them the opportunity to interact with their child across a range of play activities.

Play activities offered at playgroup are either free or low cost, and may include:

  • Music and singing
  • Outdoor and free play
  • Art and craft activities
  • Outings

Playgroup can meet anywhere that is safe for children – community and neighbourhood centres, health clinics, women’s centres, preschools and kindergartens, church halls and even in someone’s house. Playgroups also link families with health, disability and support services within their community.

Community, parent-run playgroups have been running in Australia for over 40 years. There are over 8000 community playgroups in Australia. Children with ASD also attend many community playgroups.

“Playing is how young children learn. Playing with each other and caring adults is the best, fastest and most lasting way to grow kind, smart and loving human beings. Nothing provides this as well as playgroups“ Steve Biddulph, Family Psychologist, Father of the Year, and Author of Raising Boys.

What is PlayConnect?

PlayConnect Playgroups are here to help families with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It’s about connecting with other families.

PlayConnect Playgroups are here to benefit the whole family and carers of children 0-6 years who may have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) characteristics, developmental delays in communication and social skills and/or behavioural and sensory issues.

PlayConnect offers play-based learning opportunities for children in an ASD friendly environment. PlayConnect playgroups are lead by a Facilitator who provides support to parents and children. PlayConnect is not a therapy program, it offers a play based learning environment and a forum for ASD information exchange.

The PlayConnect Playgroups program is a component of the Australian Government’s Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) package. PlayConnect Playgroups are delivered across the country by Playgroup Australia in partnership with each State or Territory Playgroup Association.

The Importance of Play

Research has shown the value of play for the social, cognitive, emotional & physical development of all children (Ginsburg,2007). Play focuses on the process rather than a product.

Play also offers parents a vehicle to connect with their children and enter their world through play. Through play children learn to express themselves in different ways by talking about thoughts, building, painting, drawing, & role playing they are given the opportunity to make meaning of the world by exploring a range of roles. Play requires a child to be active and to initiate which creates a sense of empowerment over the environment. This sense of empowerment underpins the way in which the child will view themselves, the world and hence impact on how they approach life.

PlayConnect Playgroups see the importance of Play in assisting the development of young children’s social, cognitive, emotional and language development. At a PlayConnect Playgroup, children with ASD and ASD like symptoms will have the opportunity to play in a secure, supportive environment with their parents, carers and other family members.

Who are PlayConnect Playgroups for?

PlayConnect Playgroups are for families that have a child aged from 0-6 years who has ASD or displays ASD-like behaviours. Your child does not need a formal ASD diagnosis to join a PlayConnect Playgroup. PlayConnect Playgroups aim to connect families with each other, as well as to resources available in their local community and other services offered in the HCWA package.

What Will Happen at a PlayConnect Playgroup?

PlayConnect Playgroups meet each week for around two hours. It is not a requirement that you attend every session (as we are well aware of your busy schedule). However, to make it easier for families to access PlayConnect Playgroups brothers and sisters are welcome to attend.

During PlayConnect sessions, carers and children join in a variety of play experiences, practice skills, connect and engage with other families and have fun.

At a PlayConnect Playgroup you may find:

  • Smaller group sizes
  • Structured environment and routines
  • The use of visual strategies and supports
  • Modelling of play and social activities
  • Play activities suited to the needs and strengths of children with ASD
  • Positive encouragement
  • And a range of activities designed around the interests and needs of each individual family

PlayConnect Facilitators implement a strengths- based approach, focusing on what a child does well to encourage the development of new skills.

Facilitators can also provide information regarding ASD services and supports and organise to have local ASD specialists visit the playgroup.

At Playgroup your facilitator can help you with information on any of the following:

  • ASD services, resources and information
  • Local Early Intervention services
  • Local community programs and supports
  • NDIS information and services
  • Tips and ideas for play at home
  • Social stories
  • Visual schedules and communication supports
  • Tips on behaviour management
  • Transition support

How will PlayConnect Playgroups benefit our family?

The PlayConnect model is about reducing social isolation, building group cohesion and confidence in families. PlayConnect Playgroups:

  • Focus on the whole family
  • Promote positive family relationships through support, shared play experiences, and networking opportunities
  • Encourage siblings to attend, enabling them to share experiences, validate feelings and develop external supports
  • Provide a dedicated time each week for family members to focus simply on playing together

How will PlayConnect Benefits my Child?

Numerous studies have proven the value of playgroup on young children’s social, cognitive, emotional and language development.

PlayConnect Playgroups:

  • Provide an inclusive environment for children to play free from judgement
  • Provide opportunities for children to learn new skills, behaviours, and strategies
  • Give children the opportunity to generalise new behaviours in a safe setting new people
  • Provide opportunities and supportsfor childrento build skills in:
    • Coping with change
    • Following instructions
    • Communication
    • Taking turns
    • Sensory integration
    • Social skills

How will PlayConnect Playgroups benefit me as a parents/carers?

PlayConnect playgroups:

  • Educate parents on how they can support their child’s development through play
  • Enable parents to identify their own value and worth in their child’s development
  • Give parents the opportunity to gain valuable insights into child-centred play strategies
  • Provide opportunities to make friends, share, connect and engage with other families in similar situations
  • Inform parents of specialist services and resources available to them

PlayConnect parents:

  • Offer understanding, validation, supportand friendship to one another
  • Buildself-confidence as they expand their knowledge and understanding of ASD’s through developing support networks.

Who coordinates PlayConnect Playgroups?

Playgroup Australia, the national peak body for playgroups, has received funding from the Australian Government to implement the PlayConnect Playgroups program, as one of the components of the Helping Children With Autism initiative. PlayConnect Playgroups are being coordinated in partnership with state and territory playgroup associations across Australia.

Must a child have a formal ASD diagnosis in order to attend a PlayConnect Playgroup?

No. PlayConnect Playgroups welcome both children with a formal ASD diagnosis, and those who do not have an ASD diagnosis but who may be displaying ASD like symptoms or behaviours.

Do PlayConnect Playgroups offer specialist early intervention therapies for children with ASD?

Whilst the PlayConnect Playgroup Development Worker will create and facilitate a supportive play environment for the children with ASD and ASD like symptoms attending a PlayConnect Playgroup, specialist early intervention therapies are not offered during playgroup sessions.

Rather, the PlayConnect Playgroup Development Worker will provide families with information about specialist services for children with ASD in the local area and may also provide direct introductions to staff from those services.

Are the siblings of children with ASD and ASD like symptoms able to attend a PlayConnect Playgroup?

Yes, siblings of children with ASD and ASD like symptoms are welcome at PlayConnect Playgroups.

Do families have to pay to attend a PlayConnect Playgroup?

Funding from the Australian Government enables families with a child with ASD or ASD like symptoms to attend a PlayConnect free. Some PlayConnect Playgroups may choose to undertake certain activities that are not covered by the funding for the playgroup and participating families may be asked to make a contribution to meet these expenses. However, given that parents and carers are included in planning and decision- making about playgroup activities, it is expected that families will be able to maintain control over matters such as the frequency and amount of any additional expenses.

As part of the transition process for PlayConnect Playgroups that plan to become self-managed, the PlayConnect Playgroup Development Worker will actively work with families to identify options and develop strategies for ensuring the playgroup’songoing financial sustainability and viability.