On Sunday 30th March 2014, the scaly, feathery and furry inhabitants of Featherdale Wildlife Park helped sick children forget their struggles for a day and rediscover the joys of being a kid.Lucy - Brainwave, Featherdale WL Park-12

36 children who suffer from a variety of brain illness and injuries joined in the fun with their parents and siblings. In total more than 25 families got the chance to build family bonds and connect with other families, whilst getting up close and personal with a variety of animals including an adorable one year old wombat and an interesting looking shingleback lizard. 

This free day of fun was hosted by Brainwave, Australia’s only paediatric charity supporting children living with brain illnesses or injuries.  This event formed part of an annual program of family events designed specifically to support families, providing some fun and relaxation whilst connecting with other families just like them.

The Kimmings family from Blaxland, NSW have three children, and one is 11 year old Lucy. Lucy suffers from epilepsy and has a severe intellectual disability putting her intellectual age somewhere between two and four years of age. Lucy and the rest of her family were all very excited to leave their cares at home and spend the day at Featherdale!

Lucy was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms (a type of epilepsy only found in infants) which, despite repeated treatment attempts, was never able to be cured. Doctors are still unsure what has caused Lucy’s intellectual disability.

Lucy’s condition puts stress on not only her parents, but also on her relationship with her siblings as well. Sadly, there are many families going through the same challenges as Lucy and her family, a reality which made the Brainwave Featherdale Family Fun Day even more important.

According to child psychologist Sandy Rea, days like these provide tangible psychological benefits to children who are affected by disability and long term illness. “Cuddling animals is a wonderful way to allow children to reduce stress, decrease a sense of loneliness and anxiety, and have a sense of connectedness to a living thing,” said Sandy. “Many of these children endure physical difficulties, ongoing pain and time spent away from school or friends on a daily basis, which can leave them feeling very isolated.” Sandy said: “Engaging with animals can be a great way for a less socially outgoing child to negotiate new social contacts with other children. This in turn increases their self-esteem.”

Spokesperson and founder of Brainwave, Josephine Nicholls says that for some of these families, such days are the only fun outings they experience. “When children are sick, life is serious. These children embrace wholeheartedly the opportunity to participate in fun-filled activities. Brainwave’s role reaches beyond the care of the sick child, supporting the whole family to meet the new demands placed on them.”

The Brainwave Fun Day at Featherdale was a welcome chance for families facing similar battles to come together, share stories, laughter and experiences. Most importantly it was a chance for some of our community’s most vulnerable children to forget their challenges and if only for the day, really enjoy just being a kid.