SensationALL Holiday programme 2022
A story by SensationALL
SensationALL received funding for a programme of activities and support sessions during the school holidays 2022 for Neurodiverse children and those with multiple support needs and disabilities and their families. Sessions took place across the Northeast during Easter, Summer and October breaks.
What SensationALL Holiday programme 2022 did
The 2022 programme consisted of activity sessions including Family Soft Play, Craft/Junk modelling sessions, Self-regulation sessions, Family Makaton, Free Play, Outdoor Water Play, Social Groups and Therapet Visits.
Additionally, we held parent/carer sessions simultaneously to the drop off sessions enabling the adults to leave their children in a safe place while they had social time with other carers. These relaxed get-togethers were overseen by our practitioner who encouraged informal discussions and sharing of experiences.
We delivered 62 sessions:
- 17 during the Easter holidays
- 34 in the Summer
- 11 during the October holidays
This was higher than we initially expected (forecasted 56) and we feel we successfully fulfilled all the fund’s priority areas but particularly mutual benefit as, our interaction has a positive impact on the youngster as well as their carers as, by targeting the developmental or behavioural challenges they face we improve their resilience. Furthermore, we give the whole family access to an inclusive community of peers who understand what they are going through.
The majority of sessions were held at our centre in Westhill however, to meet demand, we delivered 19 sessions in locations in Aberdeen City and 2 sessions in Banchory.
Attendees were mostly Neurodiverse (Autism, ADHD etc.), many have learning deficits, developmental delay or sensory processing issues but regardless of condition all our youngsters require a place where they feel safe and comfortable to play, learn and socialise. Our group activities are capped in number and the high staff ratio ensured attendees weren’t overwhelmed by the noise, pace or size of the session. For those with behavioural regulation difficulties we work with them to improve their tolerance of group settings, ability to interact with other (sharing, turn taking etc.) and communication (both verbally and non-verbally).
What SensationALL has learned
One of main ongoing challenges is accommodating all the families who approach us for support - the small group sizes do mean that sessions book up quickly and therefore, we can't always offer places to everyone who wants one.
Holiday sessions require more planning than our term time activity as we have to allow for new families who may not have attended before and therefore, we know little about the child’s presentation, triggers or ability levels. This can mean that staff have to spend longer encouraging some the attendees to participate or managing their behaviour. Managing erratic behaviour can be challenging and require the staff to improvise and adapt session plans on the day. For example, one youngster during a summer holiday session became violent towards other children in the group which had to be managed quickly to safeguard all the attendees. Staff dealt with it in a positive manner and the children who were targeted left feeling unaffected by the incident.
Sessions that involve a lot of physical activity like the outdoor play must be managed well in order to control some attendee’s enthusiasm as they are still learning to regulate their behaviour so by creating ‘time out’ zones and clear setting of rules the whole group were able to enjoy the activity.
As demand increased for our sessions in 2022, we have had to seek additional funding to cover the additional staff time required to expand the timetable. Securing funding is always a challenge but in 2022 we have been successful in achieving multi-year funding agreements from a couple of sources which was able to cover the additional sessions.
Delivering outreach sessions was new for us and in 2022 there were lots of learnings on the logistical aspects of organising venues and transporting resources and equipment. Due to securing other funding we have been able to look for a second venue and we are working to finalise a lease agreement on a multi-purpose unit which we hope will make a positive difference to us in 2023
How SensationALL has benefitted from the funding
This funding has allowed us to expand our holiday programme of activities and start delivering some outreach sessions in order to engage with new families who are unable to travel to our centre. This is has helped us raise our profile in new areas and strengthen our reputation as a provider of tailored support for Neurodiverse individuals and those with complex needs. In addition, largely thanks to the funding, we have been able to appoint one member of the team as a Family Support Practitioner, dedicated to working with parent/carers and expanding our peer support network for families.
We will deliver a fun, interactive holiday programme where children and young people can socialise and build friendships.
In total, we delivered 62 sessions which were attended by 124 youngsters and 75 parent/carers: - 17 sessions during the Easter holidays - 34 in the Summer - 11 in October This was more than expected at the time of our application (forecasted 56) and this resulted in interactions with more youngsters than anticipated (80). The increase in output was possible due to additional funding allowing more staff hours to be allocated to the project. Sessions provided opportunities for youngsters to have positive experiences centred around fun, stimulating play and activities. Staff encouraged communication and social interaction within the groups and children interacted with each other well, developing friendships and bonds. For those who attend our term-time sessions, it enabled them to stay in contact with friends and maintain some form of routine while off school. Meanwhile, new attendees could meet new friends who are similar to them and have shared experiences.
Our families frequently tell us they struggle to find appropriate activities for their children to attend as there are few services in North East Scotland that cater for individuals with multiple support needs. We take their needs and preferences into consideration when we are planning our programme to try and accommodate all abilities. When we surveyed our families after the holiday sessions the feedback on the programme was all positive with 100% of respondents saying they would recommend SensationALL to others. One family commented: “M attended a few council run ASN sessions during the holidays, some were OK but some he didn’t like at all. The SensationALL Chill-OOT Taster session was by far the most successful - he really liked it!” One family expressed their gratitude in their feedback: “Thank you, thank you for giving our daughter the chance to see familiar faces in the holidays and feeling she has something to look forward too. You give us as a family chance to do something we maybe can’t because she cannot attend a lot of things.” We asked our families what difference the interaction with SensationALL had had on their youngster and respondents and 84% said it had a positive effect on their happiness (the remainder said there was no change but no one said there was a negative affect). Many of the new families who attended have indicated they want to continue attending term-time so their child can make further improvements. Where possible we would ask the attendees for their feedback during sessions to gauge their satisfaction with the activity or group. During an outdoor play session, staff asked participants if they were having fun, to which they all excitedly shouted “yesssss!!!”. Others were heard telling their parent/carers how much fun they had had on pick up: “I love this so much, thank you so much for bringing me here mummy” - service user
Parent/carers will feel better supported and rested thanks to the increased opportunities for respite time while their children are attending sessions
We planned to deliver a programme with around 50% of sessions being drop off for families to leave their children and enjoy some respite time, the actual amount was 72% of sessions. This gave more opportunities for parents to either leave and enjoy time with their other children or have some time alone. In addition, on the days we had parent support sessions running they had the choice whether to stay onsite and socialise with other families. We surveyed the families who attended and 90% of respondents said they benefited in some way from their child attending the sessions: - 70% said they enjoyed respite time while their child was in session - 55% said they benefited from interacting with SensationALL staff - 45% said they enjoyed meeting other families while at SensationALL - 40% said they benefited from attending as a family
Our families frequently tell us that having SensationALL services available to them gives them a place to come and allow their children to have fun while they can either enjoy free time, spend time with their non-MSN children or socialise with other parent/carers. One commented: “The sessions are so important to us as a family as it’s time she can be with people like herself, it gives her a break from us and us a break for her. She can make new friendships and be herself which is so important. The holidays are long and routine is changed which is difficult [for our daughter] she enjoyed the different sessions she was able to go too. They are always well planned for her needs and abilities.” Another family said: “We were so grateful for a chance to have time with our other children.” In our summer sessions, one family came for the first time and the mum told staff she was not expecting to be able to leave her son as past experiences in similar circumstances had resulted in him being quite clingy to her. However, on arrival to the session, staff introduced him to another child and helped them instigate a conversation. Once he realised what activity the group was doing and that it was a friendly environment, he felt comfortable enough to let her leave. His mum was not only surprised that he had asked her not to stay with him but relieved that she could go and have some time to herself which was extremely unusual as he doesn’t normally want her to leave him. At the end of the session, he said he would like to come back to SensationALL, so his mum is going to book him into term-time sessions and commented how happy she is to have found somewhere that he feels happy to staff on his own – she is looking forward to having opportunities for respite time.
Siblings who are young carers are encouraged to join some of the holiday sessions and therefore can access recreational opportunities that are suitable for both them and their MSN sibling. They will also have the opportunity to meet other young carers and build friendships through shared experiences
We had 24 attendances from sibling sets across the 2022 holiday programme and the feedback from them has been positive. The parent/carers appreciate having an opportunity when they can drop off all of their children at an activity, they know is suitable for them all. Meanwhile, the children get to have fun but make their own friends within the group activity. Staff witnessed many relationships forming between attendees particularly when participants knew each other from previous holiday groups and could continue developing friendships over a period of time. Many of the youngsters improved their ability to initiate conversation independently, especially a group of girls who attended during the summer and got on very well. The positive relationships also developed between attendees and staff as the youngsters learnt they could trust and rely on the staff to attend to their needs throughout the activities.
The W family consists of three siblings with identified support needs. The children are aged 7,10 and 11 years old and all have different presentations. The youngest showed very low self-confidence throughout the session and verbalised this during a drawing activity when she stated she was going to make her self-portrait look like herself but prettier. The other 2 were more aware of their conditions and how it affects them with the eldest speaking openly with staff about his autism diagnosis and how this affects his daily life and the middle child communicated that he often struggles to regulate himself and his emotions, particularly during school time. This family have struggled to access our services at our centre due to the associated travel, but due to our outreach sessions they attended a holiday activity near their home. This gave them a rare opportunity for the whole family to interact together in a fun activity. The family engaged with a lot of the group’s physical activities and games, which encouraged them to build positive relationships and develop their communication skills by talking to one another and working together. We had a sensory/fidget box available throughout the session, which these siblings were immediately drawn to. They utilised breathing balls, fidget toys and massagers. They also used the vibration plate a lot, practising turn-taking in doing this as well. All 3 of the siblings presented with low confidence and self-esteem and staff worked on improving this throughout the activities giving them useful techniques, which they can now develop further at home. It was evident by the end of the session they had all had a positive experience as they appeared much happier and more relaxed. Staff noted improvements in self-confidence and communication skills in all of them just within a short session. The three siblings interacted really well with the other service users in the group and overall had a very enjoyable experience. Their mum expressed an immense amount of gratitude, sharing that she could tell they had a great time, and she would make the effort to allow them to attend future sessions with us in order to continue this positive impact.
Parent/carers will feel better supported and rested thanks to the increased opportunities for respite time while their children are attending sessions.
On many occasions our team observed participants improving their confidence as they became more comfortable in the group settings. Several children who came for the first time were initially nervous, quite withdrawn and took time to engage (especially if their parent/carer wasn’t staying onsite) but once they realised it was going to be a fun experience, they were happy to be left. During one session a young girl did not want to leave, which she displayed by hiding from her mum, saying she wanted to ‘stay here forever’. In our survey we asked if families felt attending had had a positive impact on their youngster: - 60% of respondents said their youngster’s confidence improved - 60% felt their youngster’s social skills improved - 75% felt their youngster were more tolerant of group settings - 65% thought their youngster’s behavioural regulation had improved A parent said: “Although it’s only been 1 session, I can see how much it helped J – we’ll definitely come to more."
Our Chill-oot taster sessions were incorporate into the holiday programme to allow those who have been unable to come along to the term time programme. The outreach sessions aimed to reach new families in the shire, who’s children are struggling with their emotional awareness, behavioural regulation and/or confidence and self-esteem. Sessions incorporated different themes related to improving learning, building confidence and developing emotional literacy. Activities included relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, visualisation and group games and discussions related to recognising emotions and arousal states. Staff shared useful coping strategies for anxiety, anger or stress that could be personalised to the individual. In one Chill-oot session, all attendees appeared nervous on arrival, unsure what to expect. However, they quickly became confident within the environment, moving freely, initiating conversations with their peers unprompted by staff. This was achieved by allowing the lower energy participants some time for a colouring in activity while the high energy youngsters took part in a hide and seek tag game. This allowed all participants to acclimatise themselves to the setting and by the end of the session staff noted they had all benefited from the social interactions and had started to build peer relationships because they were in a place they felt included and accepted. In one of our social groups that used a show & tell format, one girl, E, who struggles with social interactions, hadn’t brought anything to show, however she sat and listened while the others talked about what they had brought. As her understanding is quite limited and like many children on the Autistic spectrum, E uses echolalia (repetition of words and sentences) to navigate social situations and manage day to day interactions, which is often a way to mask anxieties and/or a lack of understanding. However, during the session, E felt a sense of inclusion and community, so her posture was relaxed, and she had a big smile on her face throughout. She showed confidence when unprompted, she repeatedly went up to another attendee, asking him if he was okay and at the end she asked if he was coming back tomorrow demonstrating she felt a bond with him. E said “I’m having so much fun”.