Can You Take Young People With Additional Needs On Overseas Mission?

Going on an overseas mission trip can often be a transforming and life changing experience; offering an opportunity to serve in a very different culture and environment, challenging our worldview and our perceptions of our role in the world.

Taking young people on a short-term mission trip experience can equip them and inspire them for a lifetime of service, or at the very least cause them to think critically about the consumerist ‘it’s all about me’ culture that we live in.

But why should transforming overseas mission experiences like this be only for so-called ‘mainstream’ young people?

Why shouldn’t everyone, including young people with additional needs or disabilities, be able to experience trips like this too?

So often, young people with additional needs are excluded from overseas mission trips like this unless they are accompanied by a parent or carer, but is that the only way that all young people can be included?

I recently had the great privilege of taking a group of young people on a 10-day short-term mission trip to South Africa.

12 of us, including 10 young people, a female leader, and myself, joined with groups from across the UK totalling 120 together to build homes and hope for disadvantaged families in a township, work with the local children through a kids club, and to see the young people blossom, grow, and be transformed by the experience.

Included in the group was an autistic young person for whom this was their first experience of being overseas away from their family.

What sharing this journey with this young person taught me is that anyone can go on a short-term overseas mission trip, and that doing so can be a really valuable and inspiring step in the development of a young person with additional needs, just as much as it can be for anyone else.

There are many ways that a young person with additional needs can be supported to participate in a short-term overseas mission trip.

My journey with Timmy* has helped me to understand these better and so I share some of these learnings with you as I ‘think out loud’ about this for the future:

  1. Planning and preparation

It is important to know as much as possible about a young person with additional needs before the trip starts.

What are the things that they are likely to find difficult?

What triggers might there be that can lead to them struggling to cope?

What support can be put in place to minimise these potential flash points and what strategies might we need to have up our sleeves to help the young person if they become overwhelmed or anxious for example.

Good, open conversations with the young person themselves, and the adults that care for them at home, can help us to create a profile of the young person, their needs, and how to support them, long before we travel.

  1. Daily/weekly schedule

Right from the beginning of the trip, it was important to provide information about the schedule for the next few hours, the day, the rest of the week.

What is happening now, what is next, what is later.

By breaking the trip down into bite-sized chunks it was much easier to provide the support needed for each stage of the trip.

It also helped the young person to be able to focus on the next thing, rather than being overwhelmed by thinking about everything in one go.

A learning for next time will be to provide some better resources to aid this, including a day-by-day timetable with photo’s (and possibly symbols if required) to give to the young person.

Having this information clearly displayed in the accommodation and at the work site will also help.

We were in Africa, so scheduling and timings were a little fluid, but some key points in the day remained fairly fixed and provided a base for the rest of the programme.

  1. Providing a ‘safe space’

At the accommodation (based on a converted farm), the young people could get away from it all for a bit by going to their dormitory, and there were plenty of other quiet safe spaces that they could access if the dormitory was busy and noisy.

At the work site, we identified a quieter safe space that could be accessed as required.

It enabled the young person to be able to get some calm time away from the noise and hubbub of the work site when they needed it.

  1. Identifying specific roles/jobs

Not all of the tasks on the work site were ideally suited to a young person with additional needs, so it was important to identify some specific jobs that were within their ability, while still stretching them a little with new things to do.

Sometimes the young person was able to get involved in the tasks the other young people were doing, like applying a cement plaster/stucco to the walls of the house, working alongside their peers; sometimes the young person needed an individual job that they could do at their own pace such as a litter pick around the site, or cleaning the tools.

New skills were developed, a good contribution was made to the project, while not overloading the young person.

  1. Regular check-ins

Making sure that we regularly checked in with the young person, several times a day at key moments, ensured that any issues were caught early.

Trust developed through the building of relationship which enabled the young person to discuss how they were feeling when things were tough, allowing us to provide better support.

Listening was really important, making sure that the young person had the time to say how they were really doing; even making eye contact across a room, with a little nod meaning “I’m OK”, was important.

As a result, although the first few days of the 10-day trip were sometimes difficult, the rest of the trip saw the young person flourish and do really well.

  1. Buddies

Ensuring that the young person had another young person, a friend, with them in their dormitory that could help them, check that they were OK, help find things that they had mislaid, remind them when it was time to get up, go to meals etc. was invaluable.

Having a ‘buddy’ nearby also provided us as leaders with an early warning system if anything wasn’t going well.

  1. Flexibility

Sometimes there needed to be some flexibility to any rules or guidelines that were in place.

For example, while we generally discouraged the young people taking technology to the worksite e.g. iPods, mobile phones etc. we realised that for some young people with additional needs being able to shut out external noise by listening to some music and/or using ear defenders was essential.

As a result of this understanding of the needs of some young people, we were able to provide some flexibility to these guidelines and support the young people much better.

  1. Celebration

Throughout the trip, there were opportunities to celebrate the progress the young person had made.

It might have been little things like successfully completing a task, or bigger things like contributing something that had helped the whole group.

Celebrating a successful day, the end of the project, or the trip as a whole all help build the young person’s self-worth and confidence, which helped give them positive experiences to look back on when things were harder.

  1. Prayer

It was important never to underestimate the power of prayer.

Taking a young person with additional needs on a mission trip totally outside of their comfort zone, to the other side of the planet, needed strong prayer support.

Having a team of people praying throughout the trip was essential to its success, and knowing that we could send some specific prayer points for immediate support made all the difference.

  1. Post-trip Review

Mission trip experiences don’t stop the moment we get home; the memories, the physical impact of all the hard work and lack of sleep, the emotions of working in often difficult environments, all continue on for a while.

It is important to check-in with the young people to see how they are doing, are they experiencing any difficulties associated with reverse culture shock, and to provide some support as appropriate.

This is particularly necessary for any young people with additional needs who may struggle to regulate their feelings and emotions.

There are lots of other learnings from this short-term mission trip to South Africa; things that we will do better next time, things that will ensure that more young people can engage in a life-changing, transforming, experience like this whether they have additional needs or not.

Of the many significant moments that the young person with additional needs we took on mission this year contributed to the trip, perhaps their greatest legacy will be the trail that has been blazed for others to follow.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain…” Psalm 127:1a




Mark Arnold

26th July 2018

*Timmy is not his real name

Bible passage used in this blog post:

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Additional Needs Parenting: Unpredictable, Impactful, Inspirational

Those of you who have read other blog posts of mine on Firefly will know that James, our 16-year-old Autistic son, is currently finding it hard to leave the house, with all the disruption that causes around school, work, socialising etc…  Things remain quite unpredictable, but the journey, while impactful, continues to be deeply inspiring!

James not going into school means that one of us needs to stay at home with him as he is unsafe to be left alone.

Juggling work and home commitments is proving challenging, as we find ourselves living out the old Chinese curse quoted by President John F. Kennedy over 50 years ago; “May you live in interesting times”! (Never thought I’d be quoting Kennedy in a blog!)

So where does all of this unpredictability leave us?

How is it impacting us and in what ways are we responding to this positively?

Well, here’s how!

We continue to learn, as we have learned all through James’ 16 years of life so far, that impact and inspiration are two sides of the same coin…

Nietzsche was right when he said “That which does not kill usmakes us stronger(never thought I’d be quoting Nietzsche in a blog either!), but I would add that in the case of additional needs parenting it makes us better parents too…

Even at the end of a torrid day, a day where things have all fallen apart, all the plans we made for it lie in tatters, and we’ve just about done with apologising to everyone, it is still possible to count our blessings…  Nobody died and we’re all in one piece…  that might in itself be an achievement worth celebrating some days!

I’ve just read ‘One Thousand Gifts’ by Ann Voskamp, where she shares how she has found joy each day in the midst of so much that is difficult; to chronicle these gifts, simply writing two or three down a day in a book.

She uses an ancient Greek word, eucharisteo, meaning to be grateful, to feel thankful, to give thanks…  even in the storms of life.

I’ve just completed my own journey of chronicling one thousand gifts; and as I look back over some of what I have written over the past few difficult days, weeks and months, I can see joy in the midst of so much that has been difficult…  “Time spent doing jigsaw puzzles with James”, “Learning patience as I help James to cope with his day, and enjoying the sound of his laughter!”, “An easy transition to bed” …. and so on…

Through the impactful disruption of the last few months in particular, there have been inspirational moments that have brought joy to us all, and that have taught us much about ourselves.

James still has his struggles, but we are learning patience, deepening even further in our compassion and love, seeing into his world ever more clearly, and helping him to trust us even more.

Realising that if our day gets turned upside down, it’s not the end of the world and there is still much to celebrate… “…enjoying the sound of his laughter!”

We do not journey alone, but with family and friends whose love and presence supports us; maybe you also have a faith, I know mine has sustained me through many storms…

We journey through the unpredictability, impact, and yes, the inspiration, never alone but always with those who care for us; with them joining us at the helm, helping us to navigate the way, or maybe just keeping the engine going!

So, if, like us, you are journeying through unpredictable, difficult, challenging, impactful or disruptive times as an additional needs parent, seek out the inspiration, seek out the things to give thanks for… eucharisteoand find joy, peace, inspiration and a drawing closer both to your child and to those who care for you, through them.


2nd August 2018

Image rights:  Mark Arnold (photo of James)


Something I feel at least once every day.

Actually, who am I kidding here… SEVERAL times throughout the day, every day.

I can’t be the only one that goes through the day once my children are in bed thinking “I should have done that” “I maybe over-reacted there” or one of my favourites “I wish I had done more today..”

But guess what, I know for a fact I’m not the only one that does this, it’s not something often talked about but it’s something every mother feels every day.

It’s what makes us good mums believe it or not!

We feel guilt because we care.

There is rarely a day where I don’t think I could have done something different or handled a situation differently or done more.

2 examples from today are:

1. my daughter asked for a plaster because she has a little paper cut on her hand, I had already given her 2 plasters which she had peeled off so I said no, she got really upset.

Why didn’t I just give her another plaster!? A question I’m currently asking myself as I write this and;

2. My son kept asking for me to fly him like a superhero, I had already done it so many times and my back was getting sore so I had to say no and with 2 small children, one of which that can’t sit up or walk, I need my back to be intact so I’m pretty confident that it was the right decision but it won’t stop me feeling guilty about it, he was having so much fun!

This is the point in a blog where you’ll usually read something such as, don’t feel guilty because you’re doing your best and that’s all you can do!

Or, don’t feel so bad. As long as everyone is happy and healthy then that’s all that matters!

Both are true but I’m not going to say that…

Because I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to feel guilt, it helps us.

We learn from our mistakes and as long as you are able to take a deep breath and move on from that guilt at the end of the night to start a fresh day in the morning then you’ll be alright!

Let’s face it, the things we often feel guilty about, our children will never remember!

Just don’t let it get you down, I try to have about 5 minutes once I’ve put my children to bed to look at their monitors allow myself to feel guilty about whatever thing it is that I feel guilty for that day and then move on.

Be assured, it’s normal to feel it but don’t let it take over your life, if you let it consume you then that’s when it really will affect your everyday life and no one should live like that.

Guilt can’t change the past and worry can’t change the future. Have your 5 minutes, tomorrow is a new day.

It Will Be Fun!

“It will be fun!” I said.

A campervan trip in the middle of winter! 5 of us (and a dog) taking a road trip to the upper North Island in New Zealand.

It has a reputation of being the Winterless North (I am here to tell you that is not exactly true).

Even though everybody thought we were a bit crazy, I thought it would be an adventure!

It was a good opportunity to push Isla (9) who has autism, out of her comfort zone.

I had visions of doing some of the nice walks and outdoor activities New Zealand has to offer, as well as creating some lovely family memories.

So, our plan was to set off from our home in Auckland to venture up to the East Coast of the North Island, crossing over to the West Coast then via Mangawhai Heads on the way home.

We thought 5 nights would be enough time to see everything we wanted to and had our fingers crossed for good weather.

Our motley crew consisted of our 15-year-old daughter and her easy-going friend Brooklyn.

Luckily, she knows our family well enough to be in confined quarters for 5 days and not be traumatised by the experience!

Then there was Isla and her ADNZ Assistance Dog Bo, driver/dad/cook/waste emptier Gareth and me, the tidier, bed maker and nagger.

Isla had been really excited about the campervan.

She kept telling us it was because she had never been in one before and she couldn’t wait to see what it looked like.

We spent some time virtually exploring our Maui Campervan online, looking at the configuration of the van so she knew where she would sleep, have her breakfast and play with her toys and games.

When the campervan pulled into the driveway there was much excitement.

Isla was keen to check out the van in all its glory and start packing it up with individual toys and games.

I eventually would find these spread out in every overhead locker compartment.

The spacious van displayed on the website was looking much smaller in real life for the 5 of us, plus the hairy one, but out we went in the pouring rain with a positive mind.

Over the next 5 days we were all tested and to be honest there were a few tense moments.

This was mainly due to teenager/mother angst but Isla took it all in her stride.

Being away in the off season meant that everywhere where we went was quiet and we were often only at a campground with one or two other (just as crazy) families.

This provided many awesome opportunities for Isla to stretch herself, practice independence and learn new things.

The rain eased off and we got some fine weather which made all the difference and allowed us to do most of our planned activities.

The 5 things we learnt from this road trip with an autistic child are as follows: –

You can have a lot of fun with a torch and gumboots 

Walking to the toilet block from the van in the pitch black would have been an impossible feat without the help of these two items.

Isla hates getting her feet wet and her gumboots are easy to take on and off and let her jump in puddles, walk through the mud and even splash in the sea while keeping her feet dry!

Isla loved navigating the way to and from the van lighting the path with the torch as we went.

When we were close enough in one campsite she even walked back on her own.

We didn’t push the showering each day as it is hard to get her in the shower at the best of times!

We didn’t want to put her off as was quite chilly in the shower blocks at night.

We managed a shower one day when it was warm and she enjoyed the experience.

Wow, she can talk and talk!

Isla has a very enquiring mind and needs a lot of stimulation to feel on an even keel.

On the first day of the trip Isla announced she was going to have a break from the iPad.

It was so lovely having her live in the moment, making observations about our trip but boy she can ask a lot of questions!!!

Now don’t get me wrong I will never get sick of hearing my girl’s voice!

I’m so grateful she can now talk as for a long while there I thought she never would, but after an eventful question filled activity I was grateful for the iPad for some downtime.

Open spaces and nature are so soothing

When Isla is walking on the beach or in any open space she is regulated, happy and relaxed.

Although sometimes it is hard to get her to these places, when she is there she really enjoys it.

Walking for long distances is still challenging but she has come so far with the help of her assistance dog Bo.

She is tethered to him and he helps her stay on course.

Sometimes when walking through a particularly narrow track she will walk independently and has gained so much confidence.

You can really tell the difference when she enters a stimulating environment with lots of people around.

The change in her is obvious to see.

She tires easily, tenses and has a hard time with it all.

Even a small train trip proved too much for her with all the stimulation around and she shut down.

Her patient dog, Bo really helped her regulate herself.

She found it soothing to sprinkle stones on him and feel the bony structures and tendons of his legs.

He is fine with it and if uncomfortable will make it clear and attempt to move.

For those that know Bo when he is off duty, running around like a looney in the park, you would never think he would be capable of this tolerant behaviour.

When that jacket goes on he goes to work it is quite incredible to see the transformation. He is trained to work and he really enjoys it.

There are many learning opportunities to be had

With the help of the Clicker word processing software ( Isla uses at school to help her write she put together her own book of each adventure she had been on.

She was keen to choose a photo and write sentences about her day.

When she got back to school she had great pride in sharing this with her class.

Even a trip to the beach provided a learning opportunity, drawing and writing in the sand.

She won’t draw or write at home all that often. I discovered a picture she had drawn of her and her friend Sammy with the word LOVE.

It doesn’t take much to keep her happy

Isla is most secure when she has her family, her toys and her assistance dog (he was pretty happy too as allowed up on all the beds!!!!).

She felt secure in the van and the mess and chaos didn’t worry her and she doesn’t need a lot to entertain her.

We are always pleasantly surprised when travelling with Isla.

As long as you don’t try to do too much in one day and you explain the plan, she is able to cope with everything just fine.

In a deserted playground in Mangawhai Isla’s big sister initiated a game of Playground Gladiator.

You had to create a routine and then everyone had to follow your lead and be timed to see who would get the best time.

Isla loved being involved in this with us all and we made allowances for her so she wouldn’t come last.

Isla’s says this is her favourite part of the trip

She loved doing the nature walk around the idyllic campground on the Kauri Coast and braving the Flying Fox.

She walked a section of the Opua-Paihia walk navigating some steep terrain and falling on her bottom a few times and managing to get up and brush herself off.

At the impressive Waitangi Treaty Grounds Isla wasn’t interested in the audio tour but was happy to explore the grounds and beach with Bo and I while we waited for the others.

She liked walking through the bush there and feeling the different types of bark on the native trees.

We ended the day with a cultural show that she managed to sit through in the front row without flinching.

She enjoyed the Dolphin Boat Trip in Paihia. Even though she didn’t see any dolphins she handled it like a trooper.

We all enjoyed an early morning walk along the beautiful Opononi Beach. 

Isla enjoyed wading in the water in her gumboots and throwing a stick to Bo.

All in all, our trip was a success.

It was hard work at times, just like any other camping trip but very rewarding.

We are so fortunate in New Zealand to still have these camping grounds in amazing locations that anyone can access.

Isla’s assistance dog was welcome at all the campgrounds as long as he was in his coat and on leash for most of them.

World Breastfeeding Week in the Special Needs World

Breastfeeding. That word embraces a million different memories, hopes, fears, and joys for me.

As a foster parent, I have been a mom to many children in the last two and a half years.

Most of these children have been children who have special needs.

I currently have a beautiful, vibrant, wild home brimming with six children and sometimes one or two more.

Each child is unique—they all have different needs, different gifts, and came to us in different ways.

Some walk, some roll. Some speak, some do not.

Some eat by mouth, some eat by tummy tube, and one of them is currently breastfed.

While breastfeeding may come easy to some, it certainly did not come easily to me.

I have two biological children and with both babies, my body has had to work extremely hard to feed them.

When my body is in the midst of breastfeeding, I have to constantly think about what and how much I eat, drink, sleep, and exercise.

I have to take multiple supplements, visit a specialist, and be extremely diligent in order to make it possible for my body to make the milk my babies need.

I have been told time and time again that I should quit.

There is absolutely no shame in bottle-feeding and I believe that it is in fact what is best for many babies.

But for me personally, I wanted to breastfeed and it has been something worth doing anything to make happen.

I find that my decision to breastfeed is especially important to me as a mom to children with special needs.

My children with special/medical needs demand so much of my time and energy.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to care for them and learn from them.

However, sometimes I worry about my babies who don’t have a diagnosis—the ones who give up time with mom during every appointment, treatment, hospital stay, emergency, or just the daily grind of extra routines and care their siblings with special needs require.

For me, breastfeeding has been a gift I could give back to my biological children.

My youngest daughter just turned one and is still nursing a few times a day.

Oh, how I treasure these moments! Since the day of her birth, I have loved that several times a day, I needn’t do anything but sit, snuggle her close, and feed her the milk I worked hard to create.

Of course, life (especially the special needs life) isn’t always perfect or clean cut.

I have nursed with one hand while conducting feeding tube feedings, dressing changes, therapies, calming techniques, and cleaning up more bodily fluids than you would care to know about.

But more often than not, breastfeeding is the time that I give back to my little one and focus only on her as medical machines and meltdowns wail on in the background.

It is my way of letting her know she has me–all of me–if even for just a moment.

Even though it adds work, fatigue, and chaos to my circus, breastfeeding also adds a beauty, purpose, and unique connection my baby and I need.

As mom to such a special bunch, breastfeeding is a way that I fill my cup at the same time as I pour myself out for these little people.

I will treasure these moments in my heart for a lifetime.

Taking the Good with the Bad

Sometimes amidst the chaos of it all we lose sight of some of the amazing things that happen in our lives.

It may only be a micro moment or a small reflection at the end your busy day.

But I realise the importance of that as we approach Amy starting her first year of school.

My mum noticed the other day how much better Amy’s gross motor skills are getting.

When you are with someone every single day sometimes the changes happen so slowly that they entirely pass you by.

It made me stop and think about it for a moment.


Her purposeful hand movements have become much more controlled.

It’s incredible.

You can really see as she looks at her target and works her brain hard to control her arm to go the way she wants it to… this is no easy feat for Amy and she is handling her frustration about it really well.

I attended the school leaver’s assembly.

Most of the nursery class were there.

It was a very emotional time as I am sure many of you can relate.

It is the end of an era, it is the end of a chapter that has been an almost daily ritual for two years.

As I watched the slideshow of photos I saw not only how much everyone had grown in size but also in improving their social skills, their motor skills, and understanding more about the world around them.

The speech about Amy was about her persistence and how she has so much potential that she hasn’t yet fully unleashed.

It’s all very exciting when you think about it that way.

We spend a lot of our time either consumed it our errands like phone calls, appointments, medications, therapies, paperwork and so on, or we spend time complaining and dwelling on how much harder things can be for us.

But it’s nice as much as you can to try and force all of that stuff out of your head and reflect on that days’ achievements.

I always joke to myself that with each new thing we try and fail I should just get a big “you tried” badge for myself.

All the times I instigate messy play or an art exercise and have it quite literally thrown in my face.

It makes you want to just stick to what you know and never try anything new… but we can’t… it isn’t fair on her.

We just spent three days at a seaside resort called, “Blackpool”.

You may have heard about it.

It’s all arcades, fish and chips, prices to be won, lights and all that jazz.

We stayed at the amazing Donna’s Dreamhouse (if you ever get to apply to go there I recommend it hugely. Or, if you are looking for somewhere to donate money to… there’s one suggestion!).

We went to the Sandcastle Waterpark.

I was bursting with trepidation and anxiety after one of the most behaviourally challenging mornings with Amy ever.

But we had to try.


The staff couldn’t do enough for us.

There were not one but two fully adapted changing places.

We were assigned our own first-aider and offered to have Amy hoisted into the pool.

There was a height adjustable shower trolley, hoists, and even the sink was height adjustable.

It was an absolute dream for a family like ours.

Already I thought to myself “even if she hates it here today… this place is awesome and we can come again another day when she’s feeling a bit happier.”

But no – to our surprise she adored every moment.

We carried her through the river rapids, had an unsuspecting bucket of water tipped on our heads, played with fountains… and we even managed to sneak in some stretches and secret hydrotherapy moves!

So, it always goes to show:

Even if you’re having the worst day ever… it can get better.

If your child hates something one day… doesn’t mean not to try it ever again.

Just take a deep breath, accept that today is not the day, and try again when you have the energy reserves and patience to know that it could be rejected again… or thoroughly enjoyed.

What can be a disaster one day for us, can be the best family memory making day ever.

Our trip to the zoo was much the same.

Previous visits have involved Amy becoming highly distressed disinterested, and the trip cut short.

This time we had this happy little four-year-old who compromised by having her music on for the whole trip… but also looked at the animals with interest and actually paid attention to the world around her.

It was incredible for Phil and me as parents because for so long it has been Amy’s way or no way.

It is often like that now still, but at least now we have devised more ways to try and keep her calm and happy.

Tomorrow we will be spending the day in the city hospital for tube change day.

It’s usually a very long stressful day with sedation and a groggy Amy.

Days like that are what often bring me down.

I know that as she sleeps and I hold her hand, I can scroll through the pictures from our mini get away and smile to myself about the lovely memories made and how proud she makes me every single day.

So, if you’ve been stuck in meltdown city this past week… keep calm, breath and know that tomorrow may be a better day… and if it isn’t… you’re resilient and made of strong stuff… you’ll get through it like a pro.

Three Ideas to Help keep My Sensory Kids Safe in the Sun

Many kids with autism have challenges with their sensory system.

Their brains are wired a bit differently and this means they interpret the world around them differently too.

Create Shade

This challenge with processing their senses, means my kids don’t like wearing some fabrics or some styles of clothing.

Straps on dresses can be very uncomfortable, hats and sunglasses are not acceptable for some of my kids either.

So along with looking for shade and thinking about this when we go places, we often take a little play pop-up tent to make shade.

We also use a parasol when walking about – it might look a bit strange but I think it feels very Jane Austin.

Sun Screen that Works for Them

Some children will enjoy smearing sun cream on, it’s part of the fun.

This isn’t the case for my kids and we always need to use a mist style spray that gentle covers the skin without too much rubbing that’s 50SPF.

If your kids love playing in water then you’ll want to look for a waterproof one.

Water resistant sun screen will need to be reapplied so we know when the kids get wet we’ll have to re spray them.

Keeping Them Cool

It’s not just the actual UV rays we need to worry about with the kids.

Along with potentially not being able to cope with the feeling of certain fabrics, our kids have difficulty interpreting temperature.

Our eldest, Anthony is temperature sensitive and his younger brother, David, is under-sensitive to temperature.

This means in the sun that I have one kid who doesn’t like getting too hot, and the other than doesn’t notice.

So, both need to be kept cool!

We try to keep them out of the heat in the hottest part of the day, have plenty of cool (but not too cold for Anthony) and iced water available and encourage drinking it with all meals and snacks.

We use frozen fruit and ice lollies for snacks when we can.

We will put cool pads or fill hot water bottle with cold water and put them inside cushions to sit on.

As with many things in our life – it’s all just about working around our kids so they can enjoy it.

Fun Outdoor Therapies for the Summer Break

For a child with autism, typical school holiday activities can cause sensory overload and stress.

We tend to avoid the crowds and make our own fun that usually doubles as home-based therapy.

The best therapy for our 9-year daughter with autism, is the type when she doesn’t know she is doing it!

Make your own Obstacle Course – Gross Motor Skills and Co-ordination

We picked up a bag of training gear with small hurdles, cones and an agility ladder from our local discount department store but anything around the house could be used to set a course.

You could include a jump rope to walk across like a tightrope, a swiss ball to roll on to or bounce on, a hula-hoop to climb through and a ball to throw into some type of container…a laundry basket would do!

Playground Fun – Gross Motor Skills and Memory

We tend to go to the playground early in the morning before anyone is around.

A fun game we played recently with the family (adults included) was having turns at making up a routine using the playground equipment.

You would then have to remember the short routine and a timer was set to see who could do it the fastest.

We made allowances for our young daughter with autism so she felt competent and had a chance of winning and we all had a great time.

Sprinkler under the Trampoline – Balance and Co-ordination

If you have a trampoline in your back garden putting the sprinkler under it provides extra bouncing fun while cooling off!

Adding some soft balls to jump around with also provides something different.

Drawing with Chalk – Fine Motor Skills, Learning 

Drawing with sidewalk chalk is great for practising letters or exploring drawing or scribbling.

A hopscotch can be drawn up easily as well and then played to help with hopping on one leg, number recognition and balance.

Painting with Water – Fine Motor Skills, Creativity 

A fun way to paint without messy clean-up is to use a pot of water instead of paint.

Use a regular paintbrush and create your masterpiece on the concrete outside.

Nature Walk – Fitness, Education and Creativity

Going on a nature walk with specific things to look for can provide an educational, fun way to provide some exercise.

We often collect leaves, shells, interesting twigs and come home and make them into some art.

You could also create a worksheet of different things to find and tick them off as you go.

Ten Things To Do Suitable for Disabled Children (and their Siblings!)

Wilson is 2 and a half with cerebral palsy meaning he can’t sit up unsupported or walk, his big sister Ava is 3 and a half with no disability and I’m always trying to think up activities for them both to do together!

I’ve listed a few things below that we do which might be helpful, especially in the summer holidays!


This is my go to activity when it’s a rainy day!

I always try and keep things in the cupboard ready for days when we are stuck in the house, even if it’s just one of those box mixes, it’s something they can both do together.

A good one is Krispie cakes!

All you need is melted chocolate and Rice Krispies.

It gets messy and most of the mix ends up in Wilson’s hair but they both have fun and let’s face it, who doesn’t love to taste some cake they made themselves!

Pretend Play

This could mean anything pretend! It’s so good for children of all ages and abilities to learn through using their imagination.

Some of the things we like to do are playing cafés, Wilson pretends to take my order and Ava makes my food in the kitchen.

Or we pretend we are animals in a zoo, you’ll feel a bit silly at first but it’s good fun!

Wilson likes to pretend he’s a lion.

We also pretend that we are going to the shops or going on our holidays and we pack bags!

There’s so many things you can pretend to do at home!

Go to the Park

Your local park might not be very accessible, ours isn’t that great but I still always find something to do!

Even if it’s chasing Ava with Wilson in his pram, he finds it hilarious (and it’s good exercise for me ha ha!)

We also pick leaves and feel the different textures and smell the different smells!

Do a Singing Contest

Everyone loves a bit of competition!

If your child can’t talk/sing you could maybe do a dance instead and play some music.

I personally feel that nursery rhymes, singing, dancing and all music in general is good for everyone.

Play the right song and your mood can be instantly uplifted.

Let Them Think That They are Helping You

Children love to think they are helping (some of the time anyway!)

Ava and Wilson both get excited when I ask them if they want to help me do the dishes or making the dinner, general tidying they don’t find fun but something that they don’t often do can be exciting for them (as crazy as it sounds!)

I put Wilson in his standing frame which has a bowl in it to help me do the dishes, I fill it with warm soapy water and give him a couple of plastic spoons and a cup to wash for me while Ava stands up on a chair next to the sink helping.

Be warned – your kitchen will be covered in water!

For dinner maybe do homemade pizzas one night and let them put on their own toppings, they’ll love it.

My daughter is incredibly fussy and never eats the end product but loves to help make it so this is something you could do even if your child won’t eat it.

Make a Card for Someone

Just to say hello!

Both Ava and Wilson love getting the pens and the glue and all the crafty stuff out to make cards, even if it’s just for their daddy coming home!

Or if it’s someone’s birthday coming up I’m sure they would love a personalised card!

Cheaper and more fun to do.

Spend a Day Somewhere You have Never Been!

Not something you can do every day but it’s always fun to visit somewhere you’ve never been before!

I don’t drive so I’m always searching for places I can get to by public transport.

I found a good website called “day out with the kids” to find out what’s on near you.

Mess Free Painting!

This is a good one if you don’t like much mess!

Buy some large sandwich bags or something similar that can seal, although I put tape round the seal too just to be extra careful none comes out!

You can put some paper in and some different colour paints and seal the bag.

Let them squish all the paint together (you can even do this without the paper in just for some fun with textures!)

Once finished, take the paper out to dry and cut out a shape to make a nice picture

Pretend You’re making a Fitness Video!

Okay, I know this sounds super silly but it’s a great way to get your child to do some physio!

Ava loves helping too. So just be like “right guys! Let’s do some exercise! First put your hands right up and then right down!”

You get the idea, try make exercise fun, and I guarantee you’ll have a laugh while doing this one!

Act Out Books

Read a book and while you’re reading you can pretend you’re each a different character and make up a sort of play!

Or after reading a book perhaps think of activities you can do around that book such as drawing a picture or guessing what would happen next or play a memory game to see who remembers what’s happened in the book!