Down syndrome achievement center offers virtual programs as it prepares to open Wausau location

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Gigi's Playhouse, a Down syndrome achievement center, is set to open this year in Wausau. It’s part of a network of 60 playhouses across the U.S.

Online yoga offers parents of kids with Down syndrome a fun outlet during the pandemic (WSAW Photo courtesy Gigi's Playhouse).

The playhouse will offer programming for people of all ages, and part of their mission is being open to anyone with special needs but focusing on those with Down syndrome. To help people with education and routine during the pandemic, they’re hosting online programming for kids and adults.

Gigi's Wausau founder Erica Erdman is also a mom to 5-year-old Braxton, who has Down syndrome.

She’s one of hundreds of parents in central Wisconsin playing the role of therapist, teacher and entertainer while staying at home, and online programming can offer relief and fun.

"That's a lot of people who have to kind of shift gears, be that teacher, be that therapist, because they're not able to get those services in person anymore," Erdman said.

She and Braxton have found structure and excitement online during a difficult time for everyone.

"I've talked to a couple families that are struggling. They may be working from home, but they're still working. They're working full time, yet they have to manage being a teacher, fitting that all in in a day," she said.

To help parents manage some of the pressure, Gigi's live and on demand programming includes DIY videos, live yoga, cooking sessions and lesson plans. There are also cooking classes for adults.

"Any kiddo with special needs, routine is very important. So it's able to provide a lot of families a calendar, a monthly calendar of this is what's offered on a daily basis," she said.

There are also resources for parents trying to explain the pandemic to older children with Down syndrome.

"So how to kind of talk to your kids about that is going on, health-related stuff," Erdman said, explaining many people with Down syndrome have compromised immune systems.

Click here to access the “Gigi’s at Home” programs. The national online programs are a preview of what's to come for central Wisconsin families.

"It's a sneak peek, if you want, of what we're going to offer, and obviously we'd rather provide that programming in person," she said.

Gigi’s is staying positive about being able to open in 2020.

They’re raising awareness with an event called Step to Accept, a virtual walk to unite people in acceptance of everyone. Find more information on that event here .