Dubbo board game shop tackles neurodivergence, social isolation of regional living

dubbo board game shop tackles neurodivergence, social isolation of regional living

Laura Portelli has owned Total Tabletop in Dubbo for over a year.  (ABC News: Emily Middleton)

Laura Portelli has been a self-proclaimed nerd for all of her life.

She lives with a range of neurodivergent conditions — including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression — and knows firsthand the sort of isolation that often comes with these can be compounded in a regional setting.

But Ms Portelli has come up with a way to keep that isolation at bay.

She has owned Total Tabletop — a game store on the main street of Dubbo — for more than a year.

Her aim is simple: to make people feel welcome and safe.

"Not everyone's into sport and there are adults who can't work," Ms Portelli said.

"We accept everyone of every age, every colour, every gender, every orientation."

From the outside, the space seems unassuming.

But its front door is a gateway to a world where goblins might be fighting off three-headed monsters.

Laura opens her board-game room free of charge for all those who wish to join in.

'It's like a neighbourhood watch house'

The store's oldest returning customer, Ian Doherty, celebrated his 69th birthday in the shop last year.

Known as Mr D in the community, he can often be found in the shop playing some of his favourite card games.

"I can come in here, have a game, have a talk. It's been a good experience for me," Mr D said.

Unable to work after suffering a stroke, Mr D considers the store his second home.

"They've been very good. They treat me as a human being, not just as someone off the streets," he said.

Darren Settell is another friend of the store.

Receiving mental health support from the NDIS, he says he has always felt welcome.

"For people who want to hang out and feel safe, it's like a neighbourhood watch house," Darren said.

"I came in one day upset, but when I got here, they made me feel comfortable and alright."

Laura also hosts several games specifically for children after school.

"The skills that those kids learn are amazing," she said.

"Not only is there mathematics, rolling your dice, and adding your stats ... but there are the skills of working together, collaboration as a team, and figuring out what you want to do."

One returning customer is a young girl whose parents describe her as select-mute, but that has slowly changed.

"She's been playing for close to a year, and she's now asking to growl at the enemy," Laura said.

"She's so outgoing.

"Her parents and her attribute this place to that growth in her confidence and self-worth."

Getting kids off screens

Penny and Harrison Gleeson come along to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) after school, letting their imaginations run wild in the tabletop role-playing game.

"One time I killed a Hobgoblin," Harrison said.

"You can make potions … and you can do painting here, too," Penny said.

But just getting the kids out of the house and off screens was the priority for their mum, Sarah.

"It's easy to get them here, and it's taking them away from video games," she said.

Laura agreed with the sentiment.

"It's good for your brain… there is a form of socialisation, and with Dungeons and Dragons, you can socialise but you don't have to be yourself. You're your character," she said.

"It's something I wish I had as a kid. And hell, I can provide it, I'm here, let's go.

"It's a community. It's free to be here, and I want to try and keep it free as long as I can."

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