Short Break Opportunities
A story by Tailor Ed Foundation
We provided a range of short break activities for autistic children, their siblings and their parents in Edinburgh. These included online Circle Time with fun stories, weekly play sessions, monthly energetic soft play sessions, fun packed holiday programme during the summer holidays for families.
What Short Break Opportunities did
We offered short break activities to autistic children, their siblings and parents. Most of the opportunities were offered to families who are already engaged with our services. However the monthly Soft Play sessions were offered more widely to any family that has a disabled child(ren).
Following on from digital activities we introduced during national lockdowns we continued to offer Circle Time, which was a 20 minute online session based on traditional Circle Time at school. Whilst the children enjoy a short story and take part in fun physical activities their parents can have time to themselves.
We deliver 18 sessions for a total of 9 autistic children and 2 siblings.
Once a month we successfully ran 12 x 90 minute disability fun soft play session at Time Twisters, a purpose soft play centre in Edinburgh. Each session was really busy, with up to 30 disabled children per session. 58 families took part ( 62 disabled children and 22 siblings). Whilst the children loved playing and exploring the play structures, their parents enjoyed meeting other parents in the centre's cafe to make friends and get to know more families.
Each week during term time we ran 57 fun packed 2 x hour play activities targeted at autistic children in their pre-school year, their siblings and parents. We saw an increase in the number of children and families who attended and benefited. 40 autistic children, 10 siblings and 43 families attended.
During the summer holidays we ran 14 days of fun packed play activities for 16 families (19 autistic children and 10 siblings). Most families attended all 14 days. Each day there was two groups with 8 children per session. These play sessions were family based so the parents and children had a lovely time playing together with other children and families. As last summer's weather was so good most of the play activities took place outdoor.
In total 124 families benefited from our Short Breaks programme including 170 children which is the highest number of beneficiaries we have ever seen for these activities reflecting how important families view short breaks.
What Tailor Ed Foundation has learned
Targeting families is a really positive way to encourage them to take part. Often when we first suggest to parents about attending group activities they are very nervous mainly because either they feel their children wont be able to cope or perhaps previously they went to a group activity with another organisation which didn't turn out well and they dont want to put their child in a similar situation. This is totally understandable. That is why we suggest they try it out - usually their support worker will go along on the first visit, so that the parents and child have a familiar face. Often the hardest step is the first ones - whether it is transport barriers or a worry about how their child will cope. With gentle support, and our highly skilled staff delivering sessions parents and their children are well supported and usually quickly settle into this new opportunities.
Reaching out and engaging with new families: each year we register and engage with a new group of families with an autistic child in the pre-school year. Our weekly play sessions for small groups have proven to be an excellent way to encourage the parents and children to benefit. As most children have been recently diagnosed with autism, their parents are often struggling to come to terms with what this means. They dont know many/any other families in similar situations so these play sessions are a great opportunity to help them build up their caring support network with peers. For their children the play sessions are often the first time they have played with other children so it is a great experience for them as well.
Finally, every time we offer short breaks we are astounded by the difference these opportunities can make for autistic children. Sometimes these can appear quite small benefits such as a child eating a piece of fruit for the first time, or they can be huge strides such as going on a lovely holiday abroad as a family for the first time. These benefits always teach us to look beyond the basic outcomes short breaks offer to discover some amazing wow moments!
How Tailor Ed Foundation has benefitted from the funding
The Better Break fund is great because it helps us deliver a range of activities that otherwise we could not provide and the autistic children and families whom we support would not be able to access. Without a doubt this strengthens our organisations reputation which is reflected in the growing numbers of families who are regularly accessing these opportunities. The summer club and weekly play sessions have quickly become essential parts of our core service. Last year parents could not wait for us to open up the monthly Time Twister sessions after a couple of years of lockdowns; as a few parents mentioned in last years annual survey "You dont realise how much a soft play session means until it suddenly stops!"
100 children with autism will access our short breaks programme, taking part in at least one short break event.
In the past year we have seen demand and participation in our Short Break activities being the highest it has ever been. The programme of regular short break activities proved really popular. Parents told us because Time Twisters was a disability only session they felt their children were far more able to take part without the usual constraints and rules they struggle to follow in open access play session of that nature. Parents with young autistic children really enjoyed the weekly play sessions especially as this was often the first time the families have accessed group play activities. Similarly, the Holiday Club was brilliant - each session was full and parents and all their children enjoyed playing together. Staff reported seeing shy quiet children blossom during these activities and parents being amazed at how well their children coped and thrived playing with other children, not just their own brothers and sisters.
"W’s family is composed of J (mum), C (11yo sister), and 4 year old twins (R and C) both who are both neurodiverse. When we first met the family, R and C weren’t interacting with other people, which made it very hard for them to take part in activities outwith the family home. Their communication was very poor; R used to shout, cry, throw objects targeting others or break toys when Mum didn’t know what he wanted; C would isolate himself in another room and cry alone. Thanks to our work at home, we taught both children to understands symbols, tokens, visual timetables, sequences and count downs. These enable Mum to have the confidence to try and attend play sessions such as Time Twister. Gradually mum saw that her children were understanding what is happening Now and what is happening Next as well as knowing the duration of each activity was key for R and C to feel relax and ready to learn. As they became much able to interact with other children and families, Mums confidence about their ability to have a proper holiday grew and grew. After 8 months of attending Time Twister, Mum felt brave enough to take the kids on a holiday. They decided to go to Fuerteventura, Spain, which means taking a 5h plane, wait in long queues, different environments and food as well as a lot of last minutes changes that stress the family. Using the strategies Mum had used to help her children attend Time Twisters she planned their trip taking into consideration all the learning she had worked on. First, she used visuals to support her children understanding the process, showing them all the steps to take before getting into a plane and what they could do whilst in the plane. Then, she prepared two bags of toys and reinforcements that helps R and C to regulate, relax and focus for long periods of time. Each bag was different depending on their needs as individuals. They managed the queues well, followed every instruction and waited appropriately every step on the way. They have a brilliant time and it helped them so much to relax and have a good time. As a result of having a lovely time in Family, R came along very well with full energy to learn more. Recently, we have seen how he is trying to vocalise words. C is also interacting way more with Mum, engaging into games for longer and indicating better what he wants. This case study demonstrates the huge difference a short soft play session can have for families with autistic children. As mum said when we caught up with her after the holiday " two years ago I couldnt even take my children to a local park, and now look at us. We just been to Fuerteventura. I'm now planning our next holiday!"
We will provide regular short break activities for up to 100 children with autism and their parent carers. Parents can take a short break whilst their child is taking part in the sessions or they can take part with their children
Our short breaks programme has once again proven to help parents of disabled children. Activities such as monthly soft play sessions enable parents to sit and chat with other parents whilst their children had a great time running about and playing on the slides and soft play climbing structures. The weekly play ad holiday play sessions had a slightly different focus because they encouraged parents and their children to play together. However as they were well staffed and delivered in small groups parents were less worried about caring roles and more able to concentrate on the enjoyment of playing with their children alongside other families outside their normal caring roles.
Mum and CD attended play and learn sessions. Mum was very anxious about leaving the house with CD and his younger sister, however, she was able to attend the sessions because they were conveniently located within walking distance of her house. Mum benefitted from meeting and connecting with other parents. Mum recently asked if she would be able to set up a Whatsapp group that her Project Worker’s could share with other families we support. We have facilitated this for her and she is now connected with a number of parents. Whilst we do not moderate the group or are involved at all, we acted only as a source to pass on the details by enabling Mum to meet other mums we have been able to support and encourage her to make new friends and enjoy life outside her caring role.
Carers will get a breather from the stresses and strains of keeping their children entertained and amused during school holidays. Our holiday short breaks when their children are not at school are proven to help improve the wellbeing of parents
Feedback from parents strongly suggest our Holiday programme fully delivered on this outcome. This was reflected in the fact that the vast majority of families attended each session during the summer holidays. As we reported in our mid term report, the weather last year was beautiful and the children and their parents had a great time. “the holiday club was brilliant: our son loved them. In fact, after we went to pick him up after the first session, his brother who didn’t want to go to the Club then saw some of the play activities and changed his mind! My boys had a great time” parental feedback.
Sometimes it is the unexpected benefits for carers which are the most powerful. By encouraging parents to take part in short break activities such as the holiday club, they will pick up on benefits for their own child that someone else will not necessarily notice. One such moment was when the children at the holiday club sat down for snack one session. The children were all offered juice and fruit which went down really well. A few minutes after the children went off to play again one Mum who had stayed with her daughter pulled aside one of our staff and was very emotional when she informed our staff, that her daughter (aged 8) just had eaten her first piece of fruit …… ever. Mum was over the moon to see her daughter, who has a very limited diet, tuck into strawberries and banana’s. Mum asked her daughter if she had enjoyed snack and her daughter who is non verbal gave her a beaming smile. During the other snack times, the young girl continued to enjoy fruit. Mum has told staff that her daughter is continuing to enjoy some fruit at home. Seeing her daughter try something new, without any stress or pressure has clearly lifted the spirits of her Mum and helped her sustain her caring role.