REACH Lanarkshire Autism Summer Programme 2019
A story by REACH Lanarkshire Autism
Throughout summer of 2019 our project delivered activities and short breaks to families living with autism. We took 52 families on a two night stay to Blackpool, 17 teens on an overnight stay at Wiston lodge with 2 days of activities and provided outdoor play for 15 children with high support needs.
What REACH Lanarkshire Autism Summer Programme 2019 did
There were 3 parts to our summer project. All 3 of these components were aimed at reducing isolation for families living with autism over the summer holidays.
The main part of our funding provided an overnight stay in Blackpool with bed and breakfast and tickets to the pleasure beach for 52 families. This was a break for the whole family in an environment where they could feel supported to be able to deal with the stress and demands of a trip away with a child with autism.
Members of the charity were asked to put their names forward if they were interested in the trip and spaces were allocated as fairly as possible depending on the family’s circumstances and needs. The break was aimed at families that may struggle to get a holiday away as a family, either due to financial circumstances, support needs of their child and their own personal struggles. Many of our families are single parents, have their own support needs or are grandparents that have taken on the role as sole carer. Having a child with additional needs can mean families often have to depend on benefits or low incomes as they are not able to work due to being a carer for their child.
17 young people and their parents/carers enjoyed an overnight stay at Wiston Lodge with outdoor activities. This trip was aimed at children of high school age that may not be able to take part in school residential trips due to their autism and other care needs. Having the opportunity to take part, with support in place, gave them a chance to work on their independence skills and bond with other children in a similar position. Having parents/carers along gave them the chance to bond within their family but also with other families through sharing similar experiences.
Outdoor play sessions were delivered in Chatelherault with Outlet play resource. These sessions were aimed at children from our focus group and younger children who may struggle to access a lot of our other activities. The outdoor play sessions were designed to be inclusive of all abilities. Families were able to bring along siblings, removing the barrier of having to find childcare for another child/children.
What REACH Lanarkshire Autism has learned
Initially when we started looking at which families would benefit from our trip to Blackpool, we were looking to prioritise families who had not had the chance to attend this trip when we did it 2 years ago. When looking at those who had stated and interest in going this time, we realised that this might not be the fairest way to allocate spaces. There were families when circumstances meant that they were not able to get a break, where as some that had not been before are able to have a family holiday of some type.
There were 3 families that we identified as having greater need to access the trip over ones who had not before. These were a family where the sole carers are the child's grandparents. a single dad of 2 children with autism who come from an area of multiple deprivation and a family where the mum has a diagnosis of autism herself and really struggles with unfamiliar settings. From this we learned that when allocating spaces on these trips that it is not always as straight forward as we may think and that there are many different circumstances should be taken into account.
We have always thought that REACH had a good community sense for parents and carers, the Blackpool trip exceeded our expectations of this and showed how much the community of parents means to REACH. For the Blackpool trip we had a Facebook page for those attending. Any worries or questions before hand parents would post on and others would support. When we were there if anyone needed anything, chargers, sun cream for example, another would have and our staff we took with us would get things from one family to another.
Parents had commented that it was great see familiar faces when there that understood their situation and what a difference it had made to them knowing support was there if needed. Seeing how much not just the children, but their parents and carers benefited from the support reinforced and exceeded our expectations of how important these sort of trips are for the entire family. All of the children were amazing in their behaviour and how they coped with new experiences. We truly believe that this is due to their parents/carers being relaxed and feeling supported.
In our initial application we had planned to take the older children to Wiston Lodge without their parents/carers to give them a break from their caring role. As a charity we found our through the conditions and planning that this would not be possible. We adapted the trip so as the children did not loose out. A parent or carer would now accompany their child on the trip. The children were still able to take part in the activities planned and develop their skills but with the reassurance that their parents were nearby.
Doing the trip this way gave children the chance to bond with their parent/carer in an experience that they may never had the chance to do, and was of great benefit to the family. Parents also bonded with other parents in their experiences, particularly the dads! This was an unexpected challenge that we had to adapt planning to fit with, however doing it this way ended in a very successful trip.
How REACH Lanarkshire Autism has benefitted from the funding
The Better Breaks funding enabled us to plan and carry out our biggest summer programme to date. Having such big trips such as Blackpool and overnight stay at Wiston Lodge undoubtedly raised our profile not just amongst the autism community but also gave us wider recognition. Our trip to Blackpool, taking 197 people was seen as a great achievement by other local groups and other agencies. Having more recognition out with the charity has boosted our fundraising. Not long before the summer we had set up a fundraising page, where items are raffled off to raise funds for the charity. As our summer programme was more high profile this year, it gave more people the opportunity see more the work we do, that they may not have been aware of before. As a result of this people who may no previously been supporting us in a fundraising capacity are now part of our fundraising page and regularly buy tickets where all proceeds go straight into the charity. There has also been an increase in membership due to the summer 27 new members joined between June and August so as they could access our summer programme. In total since we began advertising the summer programme we have had 43 new members, which is an increase of 20% on our membership. This is undoubtedly due to the higher profile of the activities we were able to run due to the Better Breaks funding. The increase in numbers has allowed us to set up new regular activities in other areas we were not in before the summer. Soft play nights in Larkhall and a family swim session in Coatbridge.
Children and young people will have increased confidence in their confidence and social skills which will enable them to attend more of our regular activities and other trips, where they previously lacked the confidence to attend.
117 children benefitted from the activities funded through the better breaks grant. Out with the trips funded through better breaks, we ran 20 other activities for our members including, messy play, laser tag, free wheel north, sensory sessions, go-karting and sledging. Over 400 spaces were available in these sessions. All the summer activities were a huge success, with many children and young people trying new things their parents never thought that they would have the confidence to do. Over the summer we had 27 new family memberships at REACH. These were from families who had been struggling to find activities over the summer.
A day out in our house can cause so much upset and sometimes you give in before you even leave the house. I've found myself over the years avoiding places and events. This summer has been fab with reach as I feel more confident myself in taking kids places as I know other families going through reach will be there. We are like a wee community. We get it. We point out the quiet areas when we see kids aren't coping too well etc in return the kids are more relaxed too. In my case that means all the kids can enjoy their day out. My oldest sometimes feels "Branden ruins every day out".....not anymore thanks to REACH!
Children and young people with autism will become less stressed and not have so many challenges in forming relationships. With the child or young person having improved well-being there will be a knock on effect on the entire family, resulting in a calmer and happier household.
Throughout all of the activities that were funded through the project, the children and young peoples behaviour has been amazing and they have coped extremely well with any challenges that have been thrown their way. They have been able to bond with other children and form relationships. Some of have been new friendships others have been a continuation with children and young people they may have known before the trips. During summer holidays, they are not able to see others that they would see at regular activities and school. Having projects such as this where they can keep in touch, reduces their isolation and makes going back to school and other activities so much easier for them. Without a doubt the children and young peoples behaviour and ability to cope with the challenges that arose was due to their parents being relaxed and having the confidence to deal with their child's support needs in an understanding environment.
The quote below is from a family who has had a particularly hard year within their whole family. The mum has had to give up work and volunteer time that she used as a break form her time at home as a mother and carer, due to her farther becoming terminally ill. Their son has been diagnosed with autism for a couple years now, and her daughter has now been referred for diagnosis, which had come as quite a shock for them. Due to all of the families care and support needs, the mum had struggled with her mental health. It did not feel like they would ever get a break and every day seemed like a new challenge. Having the break to Blackpool gave them a chance to be a family out with their normal routine and gave them some amazing memories to look back on when things are tough. "We can't thank you enough for organising this and including us in this year's trip. The kids have had the best time! He has tried so many new things and surprised us with so much, it's been a really positive experience and on a personal note, with my dad being sick, this has been a most welcome break and it's really lifted our spirits up seeing our wee ones so happy. The hotel and room was amazing and I love how there's a great sense of community and everyone helping each other out via the Facebook page. It's honestly been brilliant."
Carers will form relationships with other families in a similar situation reinforcing that they are not alone in living with a child with autism. They will be able to form friendships with other carers who can support them in ways other than the charity may be able to.
Parents have been able to form relationships with other carers in a similar situation to themselves and have kept in touch with other families following on from our summer project. Numbers have increased in other activities we held over the summer as well as in regular term time ones. Parents are more likely to take their child along to an activity where there are familiar faces as meeting new families can be as daunting for them as the children at times. Attending these activities gives them a chance for informal support from others and a break from their role as a carer. Due to our increase in numbers and more awareness of the charity we were able to apply for a small amount of money to give some alternate therapies to parents, given them a chance to relax from their role as a carer. Parents were also able to take part in activities with their child that they may not normally do. This gave them the chance to enjoy experiences together as other parents that are not also carers do.
My husband and son recently went for a stay at Wiston lodge with Reach Lanarkshire Autism. This was a particularly important time as my son is getting older and hormonal changes have been having an impact on relationships for him, so having some time away to bond was an incredible opportunity for both my son and us all as a family. Reach have always felt like family for us and the trip to Wiston wasn't any different, my husband and son instantly made friends with the other parents and children there. They had such an amazing time away, my son was supported through all the activities and was able to take part in them all. His confidence grew and grew throughout his stay and he has come back home with a new taste for adventure. His bond with his father has became stronger while away, and he made some new friends as well. We are very grateful for the opportunity Reach gave us, the confidence they have helped instil in my son at such a crucial time in his development has been invaluable.
Children and young people with disabilities (aged 20 and under) and their carers will have improved well-being.
This outcome was extremely successful in being achieved. Across all areas of our project, the feedback we have had has been better than we could ever imagine. Blackpool achieved many amazing memories for families. For many of our families they had never before had the chance to have a break as a family either due to financial restraints or lacking the confidence in themselves to be able to deal with their child's support needs in an unfamiliar environments. Going away in a group made them feel supported in their caring role and gave them the confidence to cope with any challenges that may occur. Being able to look back on good experiences that they had over the summer will help them through times when things are tough in their lives. Wiston Lodge gave parents and children the chance to work together, with each other and other families that attended. Having activities that were suited to all needs ensured that no one was excluded and gave everyone the same positive experiences
I wanted to share some positives from this week after our trip to Blackpool, my son (who is 3) did so many things that surprised us. We recently invested in ear defenders as he didn't like discos or amusement arcades and we thought we'd try with those and see if it helped. Turns out it was a wasted purchase! On Sunday we took him to a party for his sister's dance after show, and he ripped them off and ran about playing with disco lights in a darkened room. We went to Blackpool and to Pleasure Beach where he'd take us by the hand and drag us to any ride he wanted to try. He tried indoor and outdoor rides, he went up high, back and forth, round and round and loved every second. We took him on a horse drawn carriage ride and he loved it so much we took a video and people we know have commented how happy he looked. Even people my husband works with. He's learned new words and phrases like 'wait, 'what' 'thank you' and 'love you'. With his delay we weren't sure of we'd ever hear him say 'love you' and now he says it daily. It feels like all the groundwork we laid has really helped us now and has made me hopeful that he may be a functioning adult. As he's so young it's hard to tell where he will be developmentally in the future but this is a huge step for us and I am very grateful for all of it.
Additional project outcome
To strengthen support for REACH to enable the charity to support more families and extend services to suit our existing members.
From our additional outcome we had predicted that success would be perceived as the numbers of members of the charity growing and also the charity itself being able to reach wider areas, in particular in North Lanarkshire. Memberships numbers have increased by around 20% over the summer months. REACH has also received funding to begin delivering services in more areas of North Lanarkshire, including Coatbridge, Motherwell and Shotts. We also have a new member of staff in place, who's main role is to develop services in these areas. These changes are due to increased awareness of the charity and the work that REACH do. Having a successful summer programme, where we are give families the opportunity to be part of a community and create positive memories has undoubtedly helped these developments.