By Rachel Shepherd [email protected]
Inspired by her seven-year-old daughter Francesca, a special needs child, Algarve resident Rachel Shepherd has set up a website to promote businesses and amenities in the region that provide facilities for disabled visitors and residents. In her new monthly column, she tells of her experiences and how she copes with barriers.
When a child with special needs achieves what would be considered a small goal for a normal child, it is a huge milestone.
Last year for my daughter Francesca this was to drink from a straw. This mundane gesture for most children has taken Francesca several years to master.
I remember the excitement of her achieving this seemingly simple task caused for me and my family. Children like Francesca need repetition, try and try again.
So at the start of this year, I decided to book Francesca swimming lessons everyday to see if she could finally be able to learn to swim.
To my astonishment and delight, it worked! By the fourth daily lesson, she was swimming, eyes open, underneath the water.
Since the first week of January 2011 she has officially become obsessed, turning into a water baby. Perhaps, daring to dream, she may one day be competing in the Special Olympics, but for now she is clearly enjoying her newly acquired skill and freedom.
These victories are certainly helping to build her character – she is gaining in confidence and hopefully self belief.
It is always difficult to find organised activities for children with special needs but it is vitally important that they are able to be included and allowed to enjoy the same things as other children as well as the same opportunities to learn.
These children need more help and repetition with activities, as my swimming experiment has demonstrated to me. I personally wish there was more on offer for special needs kids.
In the USA, they have a motto for this: ‘Therapy, therapy and more therapy’. I passionately believe that the UK and the Algarve should adopt this attitude.
Who knows how a child can potentially develop with this mantra? They deserve the chance to find out.
For some parents with a special needs child, it can feel like they have been diagnosed with the problems rather than their offspring. A bold statement but true. I have often felt this way and I will explain why.
Francesca is a happy little girl, albeit different. These differences in my daughter have meant my exclusion from social circles. She is unable to talk and play as other children do. She can’t run around, tell jokes, share secrets and have arguments with her counterparts.
Because of this she doesn’t get invites to go to friends to play, have tea or sleep over. Heartbreaking for Francesca, but it has also affected me over the years.
No offers to have coffee or get togethers with the other school mums. Building friendships has been neigh on impossible, frozen out whether deliberate or not.
Perhaps the parents don’t know what to say or how to ‘be’ around a child with special needs. They may think I will have nothing else to talk about and be no fun.
Think again! Parents like me want to lead normal lives and don’t want to feel further excluded by not having friends or people to call on.
There are, sadly, more than enough prejudices in this world that separate people, be it wealth, colour or creed.
All of us are human, but add one little letter to the end of that word and you get humane. Definition – marked by compassion, sympathy or consideration for other humans.
One letter is the difference that separates us!
So, as we start this New Year, think of the positive ways in which you can help. Can you offer lessons for children with special needs?
Can you be a friend to a parent with a special needs child or help a relative or friend who is going through a difficult time? We all need friends!
Somewhere Special is growing nicely. From our recent article in the Monarch Airlines magazine, we had 3,000 more visitors to our website over the Christmas period.
New businesses joining us are the Dona Filipa Hotel, Venepau Cafe bar, car hire companies, The Melting Pot Pub, Restaurant Mayflower, Monchique Thermal Spa, Eden Park Resort and our new sponsors, Apolónia.
We have had many businesses and individuals email asking to join the website but on hearing that there is a small fee to join for a year, they suddenly change their minds!
My aim is to change the Algarve for ALL. To enable me to do this I have to fund my time and endeavours. I don’t have the means to achieve this without the subscription.
Somewhere Special is not a charity, but we donate a percentage from bookings made through the site to Great Ormond Street Hospital.
If you are interested in joining us on