10 March 2022

Giving kids the “opportunity to be brave,” KidsAbility staff find purpose and connection in helping our community

KidsAbility’s Special Accommodation COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics are fast becoming the happiest place for kids to get immunized, and a place of hope and connection for so many parents and families. They are also another way that KidsAbility staff are finding purpose in giving back to our community.

In partnership with the Region of Waterloo and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Units, each Special Accommodation Clinic location in Guelph, Cambridge, and Waterloo provides a positive vaccine experience by offering a calmer, quieter environment for families with children who struggle in a larger clinic setting. Clinicians and administrative staff at KidsAbility are thrilled to lend their expertise and skills to make it a success.

Getting a vaccination can be a highly emotional moment for a child. Children who come to the Special Accommodation Clinics typically have severe needle anxiety, general anxiety or have sensory, behavioural or other special needs that require a little more time during the vaccination process.

“Some of the kids at these clinics were deferred three times,” explains Sarita Pandit, Clinical Manager, Region of Waterloo Public Health. “For example: from the mass vaccination clinics, their local pharmacy and their doctor’s office. So, these clinics are such an amazing place for them – they have more time, and they have more toys to play with. The therapists are so good; they work with the children to distract them and support them. If we didn’t have these types of clinics, these kids would be left behind.”

Parents like Charity Frey appreciate how KidsAbility clinicians quickly recognize a child’s unique needs and develop their trust through caring kindness.

“Our family’s experience was great because the staff were patient and could sense our daughter’s apprehension from the moment we came in,” said Frey shortly after her child received her vaccination. “It was definitely at a pace that worked for her. It didn’t feel as chaotic as the previous environment where it was so big, and she was hearing the sounds of other children as they got their shot.”

For Regan Ross, a Communication Disorders Assistant whose role began at KidsAbility during the pandemic, extending her skills to any child who needs extra support beyond the speech and language needs of her current clients brings her a deep connection to the community.

“A young six-year-old friend I made one weekend shared that getting his vaccination gave him ‘the opportunity to be brave,’” said Ross. “He admitted he was both scared, but excited, because he could make a difference by rolling up his sleeve. Afterwards, he was thrilled he would be able to tell his friends that he was vaccinated. We celebrated by dancing together in the recovery room.”

Ross is one of more than 50 KidsAbility staff volunteers who have lent their time at the Special Accommodation Clinics that began in December and have carried on in 2022. The clinics are an example of KidsAbility’s vision of potential realized as each child and their family is empowered to face their fear and walk away with a new confidence that comes with getting vaccinated to protect themselves and others.

Ross is grateful to be surrounded by a well-rounded team of clinical volunteers in social work, speech and language, occupational and physiotherapy, or instructor therapy within Autism Behaviour Services. She also credits the contributions of administrative staff for greeting children and their families as well as celebrating vaccine success with stickers, a little candy, cheers and some high-fives.

“We work off our strengths to support each child and each other in each of these moments,” said Ross.

For those appointments that sometimes end without a vaccination, Ross shared her perspective on the meaning of success.

“I met a little friend recently who was highly anxious, at an anxiety level of 10,” explains Ross. “When he first arrived, every part of his body showed he was extremely apprehensive. I sat at his level and asked him to share things that he was interested in and liked to do. I did the same. In time, his anxiety dropped to about a three. While he wasn’t ready that day to get his vaccine, he left with a smile on his face and agreed he would seek me out to try again at our next clinic.”

As Pandit reflected on the collaborative efforts of all involved in the Region of Waterloo clinics, she said: “At the end of each clinic, instead of feeling tired, we all feel refreshed. We feel like we have done such a great job to help our community. I go to bed and sleep very well as I know my day was well spent. That sense of satisfaction is so fantastic.”

Special Accommodation Clinic partnerships with the local public health units have resulted in approximately 500 children receiving a vaccine and signal an exciting step towards ending COVID-19.

For KidsAbility, there is no greater reward than celebrating these moments with a committed and connected community of donors, supporters, partners and staff volunteers who bring smiles to the tiny faces behind the masks.