A new programme launching in Kāpiti is making rugby accessible for all children.

Sense Rugby, founded in Australia by paediatric occupational therapist Carlien Parahi and Australian Rugby Sevens Olympian Jesse Parahi, is a rugby based occupational therapy programme designed to help kids who usually find it difficult to be part of a sports team.

Being trialled in New Zealand for the first time, Sense Rugby New Zealand occupational therapist Erin Rayner said, "As you can imagine I am both very honoured and excited to be bringing this programme to Kāpiti.

"Over the past three years I have seen the incredible sense of belonging this programme has brought to so many kids and families, not to mention the incredible gains that have been made in their social, emotional and motor skills.

Lachie Pearson enjoying Sense Rugby.
Lachie Pearson enjoying Sense Rugby.

"There are many reasons why kids may struggle to find success and enjoyment in sport.

"We are here to help you get to the bottom of it and send them on their way to success."

Most of the children Sense Rugby work with live with some of the following developmental delays and conditions: autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, down syndrome, dyspraxia, sensory processing difficulties, emotional regulation difficulties, behavioural difficulties, gross and fine motor delays, learning difficulties, resistance, avoidance or an issue with confidence when it comes to sport and differences in social skills.

Typically Sense Rugby is a one hour session each week with a qualified occupational therapist who works alongside coaches to provide a regular opportunity for Sense rugby kids to be active, and gain the benefits of regular physical activity and social engagement.

Waikanae Rugby Football Club junior conveyors trialled the programme last weekend with 14 children attending the launch day.

"Sense Rugby is an amazing programme designed specifically for children with developmental delays and conditions," Waikanae Junior Rugby convener Jane Chamberlain said.

"It's a fantastic opportunity for children who are generally excluded from participating in sports to be involved, have fun and learn some valuable skills.

"We think Sense Rugby is an amazing initiative.


"The programme provides an opportunity for children to learn rugby skills and have fun in a fully supportive environment.

"The launch of Sense Rugby in Kāpiti was definitely successful.

"We are excited to be working with the Sense Rugby team so more children from within our community can learn rugby skills and be part of our club."

Parent Gemma Pearson, whose son Lachie attended the programme, said, "Sense Rugby is great because it slows the game down to a level where it is purely skills based and helps hand-eye coordination, balance and teamwork for our kids with disabilities both seen and invisible.

"There were simple, interactive, fun activities that are definitely rugby inspired.

"The bonus was that we were supported by a small group of occupational therapists who were able to support and guide the kids through the range of different exercises."


In talks with New Zealand Rugby, Erin is hopeful it will be included in part of their national framework once the programme takes off.

Key values of the programme include having an experienced paediatric occupational therapist that works with trained rugby players to help the children to achieve success, utilising the child's strengths.