A group for children with additional learning needs is celebrating its one-year anniversary today – Tuesday, October 8.
Sparrows ALN Group is for children with all kinds of learning difficulties and Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as their parents and families.
The group offers a variety of sessions across Caerphilly County Borough and further afield.
Activities include soft play in Ystrad Mynach and swimming in Cefn Fforest, as well as cycling in Crosskeys, therapy farm visits in Penybryn and more.
The group, which relies on donations, is run by a team of six unpaid volunteers – Deborah Lloyd, Sam Rouse, Katy Lloyd, Ffian Lewis, Maria Williams and Louisa Mathews.
Sparrows founder and vice chair Deborah Lloyd said: “We wanted to start Sparrows because there was nothing specific for younger children in the area.
“We were encouraged by parents and felt we had nothing to lose.”
Ms Lloyd added: “Most of the children here have Autism, but all children with disabilities and their siblings are welcome.
“It’s like one big family. The children here are my little fledglings,” said Ms Lloyd, whose six-year-old grandson, Zack, was diagnosed with autism when he was two-years-old.
“These children need understanding and so do their parents. People can sometimes judge autistic children as being misbehaved, which is wrong.
“It’s just as important for parents too. It gives them the chance to talk about issues and share their experiences with each other.
“It’s a very informal setting here, nobody is obliged to turn up to every session.”
Vice chair Ms Rouse said: “It’s nice to have a place where the children are not judged.
“Most parents and children have been with us since the beginning. Everyone knows everyone here.”
Rhian Wagstaffe, whose five-year-old son has autism and is part of the group, said: “Sparrows saved my sanity over the summer. If it wasn’t for Sparrows, we would have been stuck in the house for six weeks.”
Hefin David AM also attends the sessions with his four-year-old daughter, who has autism.
Dr David AM said: “It’s great to be able to come here and share experiences with other parents and support each other.
“Debs and the committee are so open and welcoming that even if you visit just once, you always want to go back.
“I’m really proud to be able to wear my Sparrows t-shirt.”