THE slightest mention of the words ‘Nintendo DS’ sends the youngsters at A Place To Call Out Own’s (APTCOO) Cool Kids club into raptures.
Even those who are autistic and can find it difficult to make friends, cannot wait until it is time for ‘DS Club’ - when they network up their games consoles and battle it out on the latest game of choice against each other.
The positive effects of the much-loved DS Club are just one example of the progress that Cool Kids helps it members make.
The group aims to promote participation in different activities for disabled children and was run by Nottinghamshire County Council, until it recently became part of APTCOO, based at Botany Park in Mansfield.
For its members, it is pretty much like any other kind of youth club.
They do arts and crafts, enjoy their healthy snacks and go on days out that vary from walks at Sherwood Pines, to trips to Doncaster Dome and even weekends away.
The group is open to children from all parts of Nottinghamshire who are aged between five and 14 -years-old and who have some kind of disability.
Said Deb Jones, who runs the club: “It’s to give them independence and help them get their voices across. They get listened to here.
“Some lovely friendships have been built that they would not normally get in the mainstream because people don’t understand them.
“There’s also a sense of fun - it’s about having fun.”
And after just a few minutes in the room during a Cool Kids session, it is clear that the children do have fun.
Dawn Buckland brought her autistic son Matthew (18) to Cool Kids for years.
She also provides respite care for 14-year-old Matthew Pike, who has cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus - water on the brain - and Dawn and her Matthew now accompany Matthew to Cool Kids.
“For Matthew, he is 14 and can’t go out with friends, so it is a different group of friends for him,” she said.
“They like being in the club and it’s another outlet for them.
“It’s been invaluable for them.”
Stephanie Percival’s five-year-old son Bailey, who has Asperger’s, has also been reaping the benefits of Cool Kids.
“He enjoys playing with the other children,” she said. “They understand each other - at school he finds it hard to play with other children because they don’t understand how to play.
“But if they are all in the same boat, there’s nobody calling them all.”
Bailey is a big fan of the DS Club and Stephanie says that they enjoy going on the organised trips too.
“It’s nice to be able to take the kids out without people standing and staring.
“If you are in a big group and a child starts kicking off, you don’t feel so isolated - it’s a lot easier going out to different places if you have that support.”
Nine-year-old Joel, another enthusiastic DS Club member, has made new friends at Cool Kids, which mum Karen says is good progress as he did not used to talk to people very much.
Karen has also benefited from the group herself, by getting to know other parents in similar situations.
“For us, it’s a support network for the members,” she said.
“We can have a moan and groan with the other parents, who appreciate the difficulties.”
Yvonne Foster, whose son Declan has ADHD, Asperger’s, speech delay and hypermobility syndrome, also appreciates the help Cool Kids has given them both.
“It’s just a relief,” she said.
“You don’t get judged - I have had such a difficult time out and about in the real world - people still are not educated and don’t understand their needs.
“And it’s helped Declan no end to boost his confidence - his social interaction has come on a lot.”
Declan (10) said: “We always do fun stuff. It’s very nice and people are kind. I don’t get bullied like at school sometimes.”
Darcey Grogan (12), who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, attends Cool Kids with her twin brother Declan.
She added: “I like meeting all the people and doing arts and crafts. It is relaxed here and we can do what we want to do.”