SensationALL Holiday Programme 2021
A story by SensationALL
We delivered inclusive school holiday activities for children with disabilities and complex support needs. The fun group sessions, throughout 2021, provided recreational opportunities in our centre in Aberdeenshire which is an environment tailored to the behavioural and sensory needs of participants.
What SensationALL Holiday Programme 2021 did
We successfully delivered: 7 Easter sessions, 19 Summer sessions and 10 October sessions.
Easter sessions had to be held virtually due to covid restrictions but were still interactive and fun with social show & tell video chats, craft sessions (using materials they would have around the house), music and movement and even a virtual Easter Egg hunt! The Summer programme was in-person and included crafts, outdoor cooking, construction play, outdoor games and a visit from the Critter Keeper. In October, in addition to more crafts and play sessions, we included a therapet visit (goats) which are hugely popular as service users can have a fun experience as a family.
Most sessions were held at our centre in Westhill (utilising onsite, specialist facilities) but, we also delivered 8 sessions in Aberdeen city to engage with more city-based families. We held some concurrent peer support and wellbeing sessions for parent/carers while their children were in activities enabling families in similar situations to interact and share experiences. While drop off sessions allowed parent/carers to have respite time – many used that to shop, do household chores or just relax all of which can be difficult when caring for their child.
Participants had complex needs due to learning disabilities, neurodivergent conditions (e.g. Autism, ADHD etc.) or physical/medical conditions and required inclusive, tailored activities accommodating for their behavioural/sensory needs. The programme's main success was filling the gap in inclusive activities in Aberdeenshire for children with additional needs – this was evidenced in the feedback from families:
“SensationALL is the only place I can leave my child and not worry about him. The staff are absolutely amazing.”
“My son really enjoyed the sessions he attended… he didn’t want to leave. He still asks when he can go back.”
“These sessions give my son more independence than a mainstream camp, his inclusion and involvement is so important and SensationALL gives him that.”
What SensationALL has learned
We have been able to engage with more new families - particularly those who are city residents and engaged with the city location. Use of a different venue was useful for expanding our reach however, it mean activities were slightly limited due to available resources as we did not have the same sensory equipment or facilities available out with our centre. To combat this in the future, we are considering leasing a van so we can transport resources and equipment more easily.
Due to covid we were very conscious of reducing infection risk and therefore tried to use outdoor activities as much as possible. Even though in NE Scotland the weather can be challenging, the children embraced outdoor play and there was no reluctance about being outdoors.
We have gathered feedback from our families on what sessions are most popular and what they would like to see in the future. In particular the parent/carer sessions were a learning curve as we haven't used that format before however, they worked very well and we feel we can expand upon this in 2022.
Better Breaks part funded our holiday programme in 2021 so we sourced additional funding from 2 other organisations in order to offer a comprehensive programme of activities.
How SensationALL has benefitted from the funding
Thanks to the funding from Better Breaks we were able to proceed with the holiday programme and sustain our service provision for youngsters in the school holidays. The funding contributed to us being able to expand our service by offering another location for holiday sessions. As the funding was in place it did assist with securing further funding from other organisations. Better Breaks support has enabled us to continue providing a valuable service for families across NE Scotland and ensure that they have appropriate, tailored activities out with the school term.
A programme of interactive, fun holiday activities for youngsters with complex needs.
We successfully delivered a fun, interactive and varied programme of school holidays activities. The sessions we offered were attended by children affected by complex conditions and disabilities who need tailored environments (reduced group sizes, higher staff ratio, adapted sensory influences etc.) in order to have a positive experience. 36 sessions were held (6 more than we originally expected at time of application) and included craft activities, outdoor play, outdoor cooking, construction play and free time in our soft play and sensory rooms. The children enjoyed the range of games and activities as well as the chance to meet and play with children like them. The teens and older youngsters particularly appreciate having a place to build friendships with others who don’t judge them for their differences.
Throughout the programme our staff observed numerous friendships develop amongst attendees e.g., 2 primary school aged children who met for the first time and were paired together in a self-awareness activity (drawing around each other and using the template to identify physical reactions to emotions). They chatted about how their body feels when experiencing certain emotions, this then naturally developed into conversations about their shared interests. The activity initiated the discussion, allowed them to break the ice and start building a friendship based on common experiences. Both families reported back that neither of the kids could stop talking about the day’s session and how excited they were about the friend they had made. Following the holiday session both children went on to sign up for our term-time virtual social group so they can continue to build and strengthen their friendship. For neurodiverse children it is often difficult for them to build relationships as social interaction isn’t easy for them therefore, making a friend is a huge achievement and a massive relief for their families.
Delivery of ‘Chill-oot!’, our self-regulation programme to help individuals with emotional awareness and behavioural management. This helps carers to openly discuss challenges they face and encourages them to address their feelings. By teaching them coping techniques carers are more resilient.
Chill-oot is a popular element of our term-time programme as it enables youngsters struggling with emotional and behavioural regulation to develop coping techniques. In the holidays we ran simultaneous sessions for youngsters and parent/carer so they could also learn the principles and build their own resilience in their caring roles. The practical suggestions include relaxation techniques, coping strategies for escalating behaviour and tips on how they can tackle difficult situations. We also offered play & sign sessions for pre-school families to equip carers with Makaton signs and communication skills. The families gained confidence as they learned creative ways to engage and encourage their young ones to communicate. In both cases, the community at SensationALL, gives parent/carers a sense of belonging and chance to relax, while their child is cared for by specialist staff, but importantly it also gives them access to peer support from other parents in similar experiences.
One mum and her teen gained a lot from attending Chill-oot - the teen was given chance to create a relaxation bottle that she can use whenever she feels stressed whilst, opening up to staff about her challenging experiences at school. The techniques she learnt in the session empower her to take control of her own behaviour and responses in situations that are difficult for her. Meanwhile, mum had the opportunity to share her experiences in a separate setting with our occupational therapist and other parents where she felt able to ‘unburden’ to others who understand the challenges of caring for someone with complex needs which was hugely valuable to her. Both benefited hugely from the experience and expressed their gratitude to staff. The teen was very excited to come back the next day for another session.
By engaging in our activities, the individuals and their parents/carers will have experienced an improvement in confidence and wellbeing and will feel included in our community of families.
Both individuals and parents/carers experienced improvements in wellbeing. At the end of each session, children were asked if they had a good time –consensus was yes! Many added they couldn’t wait to return. When asked what they would change, the only feedback was ‘longer time’, ‘nothing’. The positive impact was evidenced by their comments: “I’ve had such a good time” “I want to be a part of this group all the time” “It’s great fun!” Families who attended multiple sessions saw even greater benefits as, prolonged contact enabled them to develop skills and confidence - “She has loved coming to SensationALL, there’s been such huge progress in the last few days!” Parent/carer feedback was positive with majority saying it was beneficial to wellbeing, many commented that having access to activities suited to their child’s needs is a relief e.g. “Its lovely to be able to drop him off so he can have a positive experience that he couldn't achieve at a mainstream class.”
Our family yoga session in the summer holidays was chance for a family of 4 (mum and 3 children) to come and enjoy an activity together which is not something they often can do. The session was chance for them all to try different movements and take part in fun yoga games, adapted to their varying ages and abilities. that helped them relax in a fun and engaging way. Some of the challenges required teamwork, which enabled mum to get involved in the activity with her kids but also to watch them work together and have fun in a way she hadn't witnessed very often. She commented that is was a great experience for them as the bind of the daily routine can take over life and they were grateful for this rare opportunity to have some quality time together. The family expressed the amount of enjoyment they got out the session together with their spirits lifted and a collective sense of family wellbeing achieved. Equally, many of our families expressed their gratitude for being able to drop off their children at our activities and not have to supervise them during sessions as that respite time is so valuable to them. One parent said, “being able to come to SensationALL is a huge relief as I know someone else is watching my child and I don’t have to keep my eyes on him every minute”.