For children with autism, learning to socialise can be an important part of their development. Thanks to Satan’s Little Helper, Travis Westgarth has been able to do that the best way possible – through play
Nine-year-old Travis lives life on his own terms. He has a limited diet, consisting mostly of chicken nuggets, chicken crackers and bread. He’s not interested in typical friendships or forming relationships and he likes to think he runs the house he shares with his dad Angus and step-mum Brenna. To be fair to Trav, his autism means his food selections are based on sensory attributes such as uniformity of production, colour and feel. “Travis is autistic,” says Brenna. “He has this unique and amazing brain; he’s incredibly intelligent, a charmer and everyone who knows him falls in love with him. However, the severity of his autism means he’s considered non-verbal, he doesn’t engage with kids his age and he has trouble doing everyday tasks like clothing himself or going to the toilet. He lives in a world not designed for him.” Put yourself in his shoes for a second. The severity of Trav’s autism means he mostly communicates through an app on a device or flashcards – although he can say a few words here and there – and he needs others to do for him what most of us take for granted. However, Brenna says he’s slowly improving his skills. “He’s in a special needs class, which he attends every day. We’ve noticed an improvement within his speech – he’ll attempt to say things now, whereas 12 months ago he wouldn’t want to do that. He’s also really active and loves animals and horse riding.” So, what do you do for an active kid who loves being out and about? You take them to a play centre of course! When Travis was nominated for Satan’s Little Helper, that’s exactly what we did as we bought him a 10 trip pass. During his first of many trips to Chipmunks Brenna says she noticed something different about him. “He’s started to socialise in a way that’s unique to him and he’s been interacting with kids more. “At Chipmunks he might find a space to sit, where he can watch the other kids go down a slide and he will clap as they go down, or if they do a cool trick on the bouncy castle, he will cheer and smile. It’s amazing to see the slightly unconventional but cool way he is finding connections and interests in others and the Chipmunks trips really help with this!” Satan’s Little Helper also delivered several sensory toys. “He loves them and was super stoked to get them. He’ll carry them around with him all the time and use them for self-stimulation (repetitive behaviour such as body rocking, hand-flapping or vocalisations common to people with autism) and express his desire for stimulation in a less outwardly expressive way. There’s some kinetic sand that he hasn’t played with yet and I know he can’t wait to get into that.” Travis thrives off routine and now he knows he’ll have a Chipmunks visit lined up every second week for the next 20 weeks, while the toys give him an additional way to meet his needs at home. All of which should contribute to a happier boy and a happier home.