Evan’s Story

Evan’s Story

Takaharu Tezuka, the famed Japanese architect who spoke at the launch of the newly published Universal Design Guidelines for Early Learning and Care settings on June 10, spoke about inclusion. One of the things he said that struck me was “Children with disabilities need adventure too”. Evan’s story features in the Universal Design Guidelines. Geraldine Delahunt, owner of Wigwams, spoke at the launch. Evan and his mum were were unable to attend the event but their words were read out. We in Early Childhood Ireland wanted everyone to hear about this determined, courageous boy, his mum Tracy, and how Geraldine and her staff in Wigwams provide adventures for all children.

 

This is Evan’s story…

Evan was 2 years 10 months old when he first arrived at Wigwams in 2014. He could not walk unaided and was nonverbal. He has a visual impairment and this condition affects his bilateral frontal cortex. He cannot see anything: no shadows, no vision at all.

Wigwams is a fully inclusive preschool and when I learned what his needs were, I decided to make changes so he could participate fully. I built a sensory garden to support his needs and interests. I wanted to ensure this little child was given every possible opportunity to enjoy his early years in my setting.  

We provide seamless provision, so children can access the outdoor throughout the day.  We place huge emphasis on nature and grass is our terrain of choice. Walking on grass gives children so many sensory opportunities, and if they fall it doesn’t hurt them.

Evan had never felt grass before, so initially he was unsure as he navigated the sensory garden. But he soon became a whizz, and nothing fazed him. On the entrance to the garden I placed a mint scented plant, so he knew he was entering the garden, and at the exit was a lavender plant. A yellow hand rail all around the garden gave easy, independent access for Evan, supporting his hand over hand movement as he learned to walk, giving him freedom to navigate the entire garden unaided.

At the left there is a friendship bench, where we all sat, read stories and chatted. As he moved down the garden using his hand rail, we placed tiny hills for him to climb. At each of these was a sensory or tactile opportunity, like brushes, sponges of different grades, and many other items we could replace easily. These were at his waist level, glued or screwed to the fence. I placed a hill with a slide so his friends could join him, pulling themselves up the grass to the top of the hill and then, with support, slide down into a sandy area. He and all the children loved it. This provided support for balance, their proprioceptive senses and their vestibular system. I observed many children gain confidence in their spatial awareness and balance while playing in this garden.      

Evan loves music, so I made a music wall and drum set from recycled materials, with wooden, plastic and metal pots and pans.  Each item provided different sounds and tactile experiences. While I gathered materials, my husband Del did all the work. He followed my design and we risk assessed every area to ensure it was safe and fit for purpose. The only real outlay was hiring a digger to do the foundation work. 

Evan went on to navigate our larger outdoor spaces with his friends, almost 1/4 acre of uneven terrain, going from space to space sometimes using a dolls buggy to navigate the pathways. This was because he was now confident, empowered and had developed the skills he needed.  He left us in 2017. I am super proud of this little man: he knows no boundaries.

 

This is what Tracy, Evan’s mum says:

I would like to say that without the support that Evan got in Wigwams he would not be as independent as he is today. Evan was given the best experiences. Just like all the other children, he played in the gardens, he made friends, and would come home and tell me about his day. I was so happy to know that he could use his sensory garden to promote his development. Evan spent a little over three years at Ger’s. She believed in him, made him his own sensory garden, gave me support in every way possible and brought myself and Mike out many times to show us how much Evan had progressed. She also pointed me in the right direction for supports. Every day he would come home with a story of the gardens, where he played and who he played with. I think that without the early years supports in Wigwams gardens he would not be the boy he is today, and I am so grateful to these people. Wigwams garden is the best childhood experience any child could have, like being in a great big field of freedom, with lots of fun places to play. I know that because he was playing outside, feeling the grass, running the water and using his sensory garden to learn, this gave him the best start. He learned to tolerate so many sensory things he used to be scared of touching. When I asked Evan what he remembered he said, “I loved my music wall and my water wall. I splashed and played my drums, it was so much fun. And ran down the hill onto my slides. The grass was soft, and sometimes it was cold”.

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