Telethon weekend: The Down Syndrome support group offering a life-changing source of friendship

Charlotte EltonThe West Australian
Aimee Clarke with sons Wren (11 months) and Hunter (2) who has down syndrome.
Camera IconAimee Clarke with sons Wren (11 months) and Hunter (2) who has down syndrome. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

Every Friday morning, Colin Moore Community Centre in Gwelup is a hive of activity.

It’s the home of a weekly playgroup organised by Down Syndrome WA — and funded by Telethon.

For the parents and kids involved, it’s a life-changing source of friendship, understanding, and fun.

“It’s a really beautiful group,” said Aimee Clark.

Ms Clark has two sons — Hunter, 2, and 11 month-old Wren. Hunter has Down syndrome.

“It’s genuinely like walking into a big hug,” Ms Clark said of the group.

It’s a comfortable and safe place for the kids, and for the parents too.

“It was pretty stressful, it was a lot to take on,” Ms Clark said.

Hunter is often “underestimated” out in the wider world, Ms Clark said. But in the playgroup, he’s appreciated for who he is.

“I can walk into a place every first and know that my child will be welcomed with open arms,” she said. “He’s very capable, he’s overcome so many obstacles.”

Most importantly, the kids love them.

“We have a little routine — when I say we are going to playgroup every Friday, he literally does a happy dance,” Ms Clark said.

Down Syndrome WA host groups for all ages — from the 0-5 cohort all the way up to adults. They offer new parent morning teas for parents of new and young babies, coffee groups in regional areas, and a wide-reaching support network.

Nikki Schwagermann, the Family Support and Events Coordinator at Down Syndrome WA, said that the play groups help children make friends.

“Kids will have friends through mainstream school, which is fantastic,” she said. “But it’s great for them to have friends with Down syndrome as well, someone who understands what it’s like.”

Ms Schwagermann also has a son with Down syndrome. When he was a baby, there wasn’t a playgroup around — so she joined with other mums to start one.

“It’s helpful for parents to connect with one another, and share experiences and stories,” she said.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails