It was that strange time between Christmas and new year when no-one can work out what day we are in and everyone is living off Christmas Day left overs still.
My children were struggling with the lack of routine, the change to meal times and the general chaos that comes with the festivities.
My son, especially, was struggling to make sense of his day and the four walls seems to be caving in on him.
We all needed out.
But where do you take two autistic children that doesn’t have flashing lights, loud music or crowds. Where would my son be safe with his vision impairment, epilepsy and rare genetic condition?
I opted for a soft play a few miles away in the hope if things didn’t work out then at least no-one would know us.
From the moment we arrived I felt a peace about my decision.
My son is almost my height at just ten despite developmentally being around 12 months old, so my first concern now is always any height restrictions.
Thankfully he was under this one but when I asked staff about it and briefly explained he has some special needs the lady at the desk smiled at me and said ‘in that case he would be exempt anyway.
Enjoy your time in soft play.’
It’s a little exception to make really when parents much taller and heavier often climb on with their children so it’s such a huge relief to know we can return even if my son takes the common pre-puberty stretch so many boys do at his age.
So many parents of children with developmental delay struggle when their child is physically too big for things that developmentally still meet their need.
It wasn’t long before the kids were hungry and thirsty.
I had opted for the ‘meal deal’ as we came in as it wasn’t too long before lunch and my son is often calmed by food and drink.
A quick glance around the other tables had me spot an immediate issue though; all the children who had drinks had them in small plastic cups.
My ten-year-old son still can’t drink from an open cup and I began to sweat about the fact he would scream for a drink but be physically unable to use the only cups available.
I tentatively went to the counter to order, nervous about asking for something different so my child could drink.
I needn’t have worried at all.
I quietly asked if it was possible for my child to have a lidded cup with a straw as he had severe autism (I thought they would understand autism rather than listing all his other needs to a stranger) and was not yet able to drink from an open cup.
The staff attitude was amazing!
They made sure not only that he had a lidded cup with a straw but that the lid was secured tight and that the juice was suitable for his needs.
While I had been ordering I was watching my son constantly as he sat in a nearby ball pool gathering the balls between his legs and sending some flying in the air.
He was laughing and rocking unaware of anyone or anything else in the world.
Now for the biggie!
In order for my child to safety go on the main frame he really needs me with him.
His epilepsy is not fully controlled, he has several serious eye conditions that mean his sight is very limited and more worrying for me is the fact he can lash out at other children because he doesn’t understand or he gets anxious.
For his safety and others, it was best if he had one on one adult support.
As the attentive server handed me the drinks and a pager to say when our food would be ready, I thanked her, looked over at my son, then bravely asked if I could possibly help him on the main equipment as he was disabled.
I braced myself for her reply.
I was told that I absolutely could go on with him and just to ask any staff member if I needed any help at all.
I don’t want to be the different ones but in order for my child and others to stay safe sometimes I need to get over my own embarrassment and ask for accommodations to be made.
Not every soft play is so accommodating of children like my son.
All it took was staff willing to bend the rules a little for a child with complex needs, a little compassion and an understanding that I only wanted to keep my child and others safe.
If only every soft play, bowling alley, business, shop, swimming pool or restaurant could accommodate families like mine like that soft play centre then perhaps less special needs families would feel isolated and alone.
Thank you, soft play, for accommodating my son so naturally.