For McKayla, Sense play became a reason to smile and speak

McKayla is five years old, she’s about to start school. She has autism and pica (the eating of non-foods). Her development, happiness and confidence were shaken by bad nursery experiences. Mum, Laura, told us that since coming to Sense, McKayla is never without a smile.

If you saw McKayla arriving at Sense TouchBase Pears, you’d think she owned the place! It’s become like a second home to her. She’ll walk in and say hi to everyone, she’ll kick off her shoes at the door and run straight up to the support workers she knows. I’ve never seen her that confident outside our home.

It’s been such a relief to find a place where McKayla was comfortable. It took a long time for us to get her ready for nursery, for this big change in her routine.

McKayla in the early intervention and play room at Sense TouchBase Pears

Feeling misunderstood

Going to nursery was a really emotional, upsetting event for McKayla. She really didn’t want to go and then the first experience she had, before Sense, wasn’t a good one. They didn’t understand her needs and their ways of dealing with her just caused her so much distress.

Every bad day at nursery knocked her development backwards. Her behaviour really changed. She became quiet, stopped using her potty, she didn’t want to eat…stuff like that. With her pica, if she’s anxious she’ll start biting herself and things around her. It was clear she didn’t really feel safe or happy there. I felt heartbroken.

I explained to her nursery what was happening at home, but they didn’t seem to take it on board. At that time, McKayla had stopped speaking and I couldn’t ask her what was happening. She was becoming more and more frustrated and upset, even lashing out.

Turning things around

McKayla at Sense TouchBase Pears, sporting a sensory medal

I started taking McKayla to the Early Intervention and Play group at Sense once a week. I would talk to the team there about McKayla’s experience at the other nursery. We reviewed the situation for a few weeks before deciding to take McKayla out of that environment completely.

The team were really supportive. I trusted them; I knew they were looking for the best outcome for my daughter. Sense was really focused on what McKayla was interested in, what she enjoyed. She’s happiest in messy, sensory play so the team would always have the sand and playdough at the ready for us!

Every session we went to was tailored to her. By the second week, I could see the difference in McKayla. Instead of being scared – clinging to the door not wanting to leave – she’d run to get her shoes on for Sense! Even now, she gets so excited when she knows that’s where we’re going. McKayla really loves it.

I can’t rate the early intervention and play team enough. They’ve really helped to turn things around for McKayla, and for my family. McKayla’s a happy ball of energy now – she’s got her cheeky smile back.

Laura, McKayla’s mum

When we first went to Sense, she only had about five or six words she would say. McKayla stopped speaking shortly after her first birthday, she just had a few key words. It was scary and we’ve been doing years of speech and language play to encourage her.

Shortly after joining Sense, she started talking again. The team there make her feel so safe and she obviously loves playing with them. When they spoke to her, she really wanted to join in. It’s sort of blossomed from there.

Sense children’s play services offer families with complex disabilities the chance to come together to develop, communicate, and connect with others. Find out more: