Rainbow Club Cork Centre for Autism offers extra support to families

This summer marked the fifth anniversary of The Rainbow Club, now used by more than 400 children. Although they had to close due to Covid earlier this year, they have re-opened and are planning on expanding services this September, writes IRENE HALPIN LONG
Rainbow Club Cork Centre for Autism offers extra support to families

Karen O'Mahony, founder, in the Rainbow Club, which is now five years old.

THE Rainbow Club Cork Centre for Autism opened its doors in June, 2015. Its aim is to help and support children, teenagers, young adults and their families living with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The club was founded by Karen and Jon O’Mahony, whose sons, Sean and Stephen, have ASD.

Karen and Jon, along with many families in Cork, struggled with the lack of resources in Ireland for children with autism, particularly early intervention.

Before the Rainbow Club was set up, children with ASD had little access to social groups and activities, such as sport and art, specifically tailored to their needs.

For children with ASD, it is often the social aspects of their lives that cause the most stress.

Feelings of uncertainty and a chaotic environment can lead a child with ASD to feel overwhelmed and unsafe, leading to what is referred to as a ‘meltdown’.

A meltdown may look like a temper tantrum to those who do not understand ASD. In actuality, a child with ASD is responding to extreme stress caused by an inability to react appropriately.

Support for parents whose children were diagnosed with ASD was limited. The Rainbow Club was set up to help children with ASD make friends and acquire life skills in a supportive and understanding environment.

The growth of Rainbow Club since its establishment in 2015 has been remarkable.

Twenty-two children attended when it first opened its doors. Now, more than 400 children attend the club, located in Mahon, and 280 are on a waiting list to attend.

Children and families have access to a speech therapist, play therapist, art therapist and occupational therapist. Training courses are also run to help parents and siblings of children with ASD.

Sadly, The Rainbow Club had to close its doors during the Covid-9 lockdown. Karen said: “When we were told we had to close, we were devastated.”

She explained the effects of lockdown on children with ASD.

“For children who have complex and additional needs, lockdown completely thrashed their routines. The lack of structure and routine for a child with extra needs is chaotic to them and can cause behavioural issues, sleep issues, speech issues and eating issues.

“When they come to Rainbow club, they do a lot of occupational therapy which can help them self-regulate and help them communicate. That was all gone during lockdown.”

The change to the children’s routines and lack of access to therapies and resources was a worry to parents. Staff and volunteers worked quickly to re-direct parents to resources they could use at home, such as online speech and language therapy sessions and packs with information on how to explain the change in routine due to lockdown to children. Food hampers were organised for parents who were unable to leave their homes to shop.

Karen O'Mahony with her certificate from Sanitise Ireland.
Karen O'Mahony with her certificate from Sanitise Ireland.

The Rainbow Club reopened in July under a phased plan. Sanitise Ireland visited on numerous occasions to sanitise the club, therapy rooms, café and every surface in the club to ensure the highest safety and hygiene standards were adhered to.

A spokesperson from Sanitise Ireland explained the work carried out.

“Initially, the Rainbow Club needed to ensure that the building was completely clean and disinfected. That was easy, and a team went in with the staff from the club, carrying out a full antimicrobial clean of the premises.

“We also sanitised the entire building with disinfectant fogging. Every surface, crack and crevice has been sanitised with a coronavirus certified, non-hazardous disinfectant.”

Sanitise Ireland used a product called Hydrus 15, an ECA product, with a kill rate of 99.999%. This was followed by an antimicrobial sealer which kills viruses, bacteria and mould to give the maximum protection to everyone using the Club’s facilities. Touch antimicrobial coating is currently being used in schools and airports throughout the UK. Rainbow Club are the first organisation in Ireland to use the product.

Sanitise Ireland also provided fogging equipment to the Rainbow Club staff to have the means to continually clean, disinfect and sanitise premises as required.

They said: “Allowing staff certainty in knowing they can continuously maintain the cleanliness of the building, in minimum time, offers security to clients and staff alike.”

The children of Rainbow Club were delighted to return to their safe and welcoming place of play and learning.

Karen said: “The children ran in the doors. They were super happy to be back and are so relaxed in the club. The families are saying how happy and delighted they are to be back.

“The parents have expressed their appreciation to us for getting their children back. It is a big relief to parents that the children have routine and the support we can give the child in transitioning into school, taking away the fear of Covid-19.

“All 220 children have returned safely to Rainbow Club. The club’s teen groups have started to return, ahead of schedule. The club has also employed more staff.

“We are delighted to announce that we have employed a further two staff members and two more will start at the end of August as we start offering places to new families on our waiting list. We are also able to offer extra groups and hours to families with the addition of new staff.”

The club posted this week that they are now also offering places to families waiting: “With our new space and new staff, we can now facilitate waiting children in the additional areas and still keep safe and follow guidelines.

“We do have extra hours to offer any family needing our support. We are hopeful for our Saturday groups and sports to return in September but we are also looking at increasing our offering for social skills groups, sports and music.

“We are delighted to have a wonderful staff and group of amazing volunteers here at Rainbow Club and hope to also add to our team in the years ahead.”

For more information email info@rainbowclub.ie or phone 0860805810.

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