PlayConnect is a program of supported playgroups offered across Australia. Since its inception in 2008 under the Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) initiative, PlayConnect has supported over 3,100 families across 141 sites, providing a free service to children aged 0-6 with either a formal Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, or whom display ASD-like traits, and their families.
While the Background guide provided an overview of the PlayConnect program, this guide will more clearly delineate the role and responsibilities of both PlayConnect Facilitators and STO’s and provide some tools and strategies to support the satisfaction of either role.
PlayConnect Objectives and Outcomes
The roles of both PlayConnect Facilitators and STO’s are informed by the goals and objectives of the PlayConnect program. To recap, the key objectives of the PlayConnect program include:
- Provideplayopportunitiestochildrenwith ASD or ASD-like characteristics:
- Provide flexible and responsive play- based learning and socialisation opportunities for children with ASD or ASD-like characteristics to positively impact their social and emotional skills and
- Support children with ASD andASD-like characteristics transition to into other forms of community participation, early intervention, education or early childhood settings.
- Provide support to parents, carers and familiesofchildrenwithASDorASD-like characteristics:
- Increase opportunities for parents and carers of children with ASD or ASD-like characteristics to foster social networks and support each
- Increase the capacity of parents and carers to manage their child’s ASD behaviours and effectively engage in their
- Provide information for parents and carers around their child’s developmental needs, early intervention services and other relevant community
- Support communities and build awareness of ASD and ASD-like characteristics:
- Increase community understanding and awareness of ASD and ASD-like characteristics
- Increase capacity of relevant community groups to support children with ASD and ASD-like characteristics, and their
- Complement rather than duplicate the services delivered by other agencies including federal, state and local governments.
To support the attainment of these objectives, some specific program outputs have been established for PlayConnect:
- Provide play opportunities to children with ASD or ASD-like characteristics:
- Establish and facilitate PlayConnect Playgroups
- Assist families who do not want or are unable to access a PlayConnect Playgroup to access and participate in existing community playgroups.
- Develop resources (hardcopy and online) and provide customised training (face to face and online) to assist and support existing community playgroups in including children with ASD.
- Provide support to parents, carers and families of children with ASD or ASD-like characteristics:
- Engage ASD specialists to visit PlayConnect Playgroups to provide information support and
- Establish PlayConnect online discussion forum on website for parents attending playgroups.
- Provide information (hard-copy and online) to parents attending PlayConnect Playgroups about other services.
- Support communities and buildawareness of ASD and ASD-likecharacteristics:
- Develop and share resources (hardcopy and online) and provide customised training (face to face and online) to assist and support existing community playgroups in including children with ASD.
- Compile and maintain an online directory of local service providers/early intervention services involved in supporting children with autism in each area (and surrounding areas) where PlayConnect Playgroups are located
- Establish an ASD playgroup discussion forum for service providers supporting children with ASD through playgroups – this will be available to allservice providers regardless of whether or not the playgroup is funded/part of the ASD Playgroups Program.
- Develop manuals (available both online and as hardcopy) for both PlayConnect playgroups for Facilitators, STO’s, parents and stakeholders.
Both PlayConnect Facilitatorsand STO’s have specific roles to support the program to meet these objectives and deliver positive outcomes. The remainder of this guide will outline these roles and provide appropriate tools and strategies.