Parents of children with special needs know all too well how difficult it can be to get access to services for their children. Waiting lists for tailored interventions can be long and programs can be limited or not adapted to a child’s needs.
Luna Respite and Learning Centre is hoping to fill the gap left by other organizations by offering a safe, nurturing and educational environment for children on the spectrum and with other conditions that require special attention.
Owner Christina Rodriguez got the idea for Luna after witnessing the discrepancies in the resources available for children with special needs, which were only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. She says she wanted to open a space that offered tailored activities for children while also giving parents respite and allowing them to connect with other families living through similar experiences.
“When COVID-19 hit, the disruption for children with special needs was amplified,” she says. “Many parents ran out of inspiration for ways to stimulate their children. They also needed a break. I wanted to offer something that was convenient, affordable and accessible.”
The non-profit organization provides educational interventions and daily programs that support the development of children while offering parents some respite. Through a variety of programs, children develop valuable skills and parents learn to better understand their child’s needs so they can help them reach their full potential.
Spaces are tailored for kids to thrive
The centre has three adapted spaces: a sensory/Snoozelen room that offers a multi-sensory experience for children to gain control of their emotions, behaviours and moods. A gross motor gym lets kids get active and release energy through obstacle courses, group games and activities. And the learning space is a place where children can play games, work on individual tasks at their own pace and choose from structured activities that interest them. Services are available in English and French for children from ages 4-12.
“Our atmosphere allows for children to feel happy, to be themselves and to tap into their imagination without judgement,” Rodriguez says. “When you give kids an outlet to be themselves and play, you learn so much.”
Luna also offers a chance for overworked parents to get some much-needed respite. Parents can drop their child off at the centre, secure in the knowledge that their child is being cared for by specialized educators who care and are invested in their development.
“It’s helped parents so much,” she says. “For some, it’s the first time they have free time to themselves.”
Staff learn all about the child before first visit
An extensive intake process ensures that the staff at Luna have a full picture of the child, his or her needs and abilities before the first visit. This ensures they are prepared with adequate tools and strategies to adapt the intervention to the child’s level and ability, and to help manage any issues. After a session, staff will also debrief with parents and give them strategies to help continue with skill building at home. Where possible, Luna staff also tries to keep in touch with the child’s school to create an ongoing dialogue.
“I envisioned Luna to be a safe space for children and families,” Rodriguez says. “I wanted it to be a place where people come together and connect in a familial setting that embraces differences. Luna is about building a community that understands and shares the same passion and love for children and that wants to make a difference.”
Due to the pandemic, respite services and structured interventions are limited to one child per educator. The eventual goal is to have three educators onsite at a time, with two children each.
Drop-in respite for parents is available by appointment at a cost of $30 per hour. Interventions can be purchased in blocks of six hours (one hour per week) or 12 hours (two hours per week). The centre also plans to introduce social clubs for children later in the summer. For now, services are limited to N.D.G. residents only.
Luna Respite and Learning Centre is located at 5585 Monkland Ave.
For more information, visit www.lunarespiteandlearning.com.