2 March 2022

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

KidsAbility’s Special Accommodation COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics have become the happiest place for kids to get immunized, and a place of hope and connection for so many parents and families.

Special accommodation clinics are one way that KidsAbility gives back to the community.

In partnership with the Region of Waterloo and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Units, each special accommodation clinic in Cambridge, Guelph or 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.

“We provide whatever support each particular child needs – whether it’s someone to talk to about the process or providing distractions with toys,” explains Rachel Kemp, Occupational Therapist at KidsAbility. “Most of the time, when we’re in the room with a child and their family, it’s just distracting them. Some of the older kids are anxious about the process, so being able to ask the public health nurse questions one-on-one is very helpful.”

Getting a vaccination can be a highly emotional moment for a child. Children who attend the special accommodation clinics typically have severe needle anxiety, general anxiety or have sensory, behavioural, or other special needs that require extra time during the vaccination process.

“Some of the kids at these clinics were deferred three times,” said 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. 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 at KidsAbility, extending her skills to any child who needs extra support brings a deep connection to the community.

“A 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 scared and 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 and Kemp are two of nearly 75 KidsAbility staff volunteers who have lent their time to the special accommodation clinics that began in December 2021 and run through the end of March 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.

“We work off our strengths to support each child, their family, and each other,” said Ross who 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 successes with stickers, candy, and cheers.

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 a level of 10 when he first came in. 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 to try again at our next clinic.”

As Pandit reflected on the collaborative efforts of all involved, she said: “At the end of each clinic, instead of feeling tired, we all feel refreshed. We feel like we’ve 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 clinics 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’s no greater reward than celebrating these moments with a committed and connected community of partners, supporters and staff volunteers who bring smiles to the tiny faces behind the masks.

“That’s the great thing about these clinics,” said Kemp. “They’re different from the others as there’s no time limit. Making sure a child is as comfortable as possible is what makes all the difference. We’re just here to be their tour guides for the day and to ensure the process is a positive one for them.”

Region of Waterloo Special Accommodation COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics continue at KidsAbility’s Waterloo location (500 Hallmark Drive) in March. Clinics are scheduled to take place this Saturday (March 5 from 9:15 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and Saturday, March 26 from 9:15 a.m. to 3 p.m.