A program created by two Brisbane mums offers an opportunity for autistic youth aged from 6-17 to learn new skills in a supported, accepting environment.
The Experience Collectors (TEC) has developed a unique recipe for play-based therapy. The ingredients? Fun, friendship and adventure.
TEC uses outdoor adventure days, nature-based play and small group activities to create a welcoming space where everyone is free to express themselves. It recognises each child’s natural autistic skills and strengths, and seeks to harness rather than adjust them, promoting self-acceptance and autistic pride.
Sarah Nelson and Kylie Cox are NDIS parents reinventing the system for autistic kids to learn, connect and thrive.
Being autistic themselves and proud mums to six autistic kids between them (Sarah has two boys while Kylie has four children aged between five and 16), they have loads of lived experienced, backed by impressive qualifications. Sarah has worked as a therapist for more than 20 years and Kylie is a specialist paediatric registered nurse.
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Creating a special kind of magic.
The pair met through an online group when Sarah was running relaxed nature play activities and Kylie was sharing her own parenting experiences through the group. An awkward play date in the park was an ‘aha’ moment for both of them and the start of TEC.
“Watching them play, realising that my son had never used a stick to play ‘swords’, that he couldn’t use his imagination like Sarah’s boys, I could see that wrapping my son in cotton wool was not benefiting him at all. He was missing out on experiences synonymous with childhood.
“Afterward my son said ‘I’m so much fun when I’m with them Mum!’ And I realised that I felt the same around other neurodivergent people, I felt good.”
Meanwhile Sarah observed something important happening when autistic children played together.
“Bringing a group of autistic kids together creates a special kind of magic,” Sarah said. All the challenges they have trying to fit into mainstream society disappear. They work so well together, play well together and support each other. It’s really beautiful.”
[Image description: The Experience Collectors founders Sarah Nelson and Kylie Cox.]
New friendships and challenges.
Sarah and Kylie created a formal therapeutic framework based on the nature play activities and individualised care plans for each child based on their sensory needs, goals, cues and triggers.
All activities, environments and programming are autism specific, so the TEC tribe can focus on building friendships and attempting new challenges with minimal sensory distractions. There are after school programs, school holiday activities, day trips and sleepovers.
“Groups are tailored so kids have comparable temperaments, ages and personalities. We offer a consistent program through the term, so they get to develop, maintain and grow friendships,” Sarah said.
“We own a clubhouse in quiet rural setting in the mountains where there is plenty of space for the kids to around, make noise and be themselves. Nature is a great equaliser. We also host events in the community, hiring out entire spaces so the children are provided with a sensory safe space”.
Over two years TEC became a close-knit community of more than 400 autistic kids, their families, volunteers and therapy professionals. The Experience Collectors has been so successful, it recently won the Working in Partnership category of the 2022 Aspect National Recognition Awards.
The community celebrated a series of incredible firsts in 2021, with many children making their first friends, plenty of first birthday parties, the first time some had been to a sleepover and several experiencing their first time playing in a creek or the bush.
New tecAntz program simplifies NDIS therapy.
TEC is now expanding to the Gold Coast, Ipswich and the Sunshine Coast thanks to new partnerships with Tara Kent from Instinct CBT and Tammy Watson from DivergAntz.
The partnerships laid the foundations for the new tecAntz program, which simplifies NDIS therapy.
“tecAntz was developed to provide autistic and neurodiverse children with access to a multidisciplinary team of allied health experts, wrapped up into a fun, play-based, child-led therapy program,” said Kylie.
Designed for kids and parents who are tired of multiple disconnected therapy sessions, the 10 week program simplifies the process with just one session a week. Each child receives an individualised capacity building program based on their NDIS goals and needs.
Sessions are run by counsellors and therapy assistants, observed and overseen by therapists via Zoom, saving time and NDIS funding.
“Our aim is to give children tools to self-regulate, develop self-acceptance and build confidence in their neurodiversity,” Kylie explained.
At the end of the program, tecAntz parents get an NDIS review report from a professional OT, speech therapist, developmental educator or behavioural specialist at no extra cost.
Weekday afternoons and weekend programs are now open for bookings on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Ipswich, expanding to North Lakes and West Brisbane soon.
For information, check out The Experience Collectors website or enquire via email. There’s also a Facebook group for parents. Scan the QR codes to find out more or connect.
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