How about an ‘Alternative Halloween’ This Year?

Halloween literally means the evening before All Hallows Day or All Saint’s Day, a day festival celebrated on the 1st November each year.

The name Halloween is a shortened version of All Hallows’ Evening which is celebrated on 31st October.

The origin and meaning of the festival of Halloween is derived from ancient Celtic harvest rituals, but today Halloween is a time of the year that many children really look forward to; a time for fantasy and fun, a time for dressing up and scary stories, a time for ‘trick or treat’ adventures and lots of sweets! 

The advertising and marketing around Halloween seems to ramp up to greater and greater heights every year, with major supermarkets dedicating whole isles, sometimes several of them, to their Halloween merchandise.

Advertising supports this with lots of TV adverts featuring images of ghosts, ghouls, pumpkins, and spiders’ webs. Then there’s the BBC Strictly Come Dancing ‘Halloween Special’! 

While Halloween can be a fun time of year for many children, it can be a really difficult time for some, including many children with additional needs.

For them it can be a confusing, anxiety inducing, or even utterly terrifying time.

But it doesn’t have to be like that; if we stop for a moment to think about the things they might find hard and how to put alternative things in place to help them, they can safely join in with some fun too but in an alternative way.

So, what are some of the things about Halloween that children with additional needs can find particularly hard, and what can we offer them in our ‘Alternative Halloween’ instead: 

1. Stranger Danger? 

We tell children all year not to talk to strangers, then on one night it’s suddenly fine to go around knocking on strangers’ doors. This can be hugely difficult for some neurodiverse children, for example, who can be very literal in their understanding and so can be very confused by this.

Why is it OK to speak to strangers today but it wasn’t yesterday? What has changed? What will the rules be tomorrow? Why? 

2. Fake or Real? 

The more garish dressing up can be genuinely terrifying for a child that struggles to tell the difference between fake and real. Increasingly, we’re seeing dressing up outfits becoming more realistic with fake gore and movie quality makeup that makes people look truly terrifying.

When that line is crossed for a child that believes that the person really has hideous injuries or has been turned into something truly evil, theirs is the terror that is real. Cue massive meltdowns, sleepless nights, and recurring anxiety. 

3. I’m Scared Enough Already! 

Talking about anxiety, some children with ongoing anxiety issues can find the whole business of going out ‘trick or treating’ very upsetting in itself. Surprises, scares, people jumping out, can all be terrifying.

If it’s hard to deal with the day-to-day anxiety that they face about going out on a regular day, ramp this up multiple times when Halloween is involved! 

4. What About Me? 

Then there are the kids with additional needs or disabilities that don’t get invited to the parties or to go out ‘trick or treating’ because they are viewed as ‘different’ (usually by other parents, rather than the other children). Here’s yet another opportunity for them to feel left out, rejected, and uninvited because they haven’t been included… yet again. 

5. Parent Problems! 

It’s not just the kids. Parents of children with e.g. ADHD may not be grateful for their children being given loads of sugary colourful sweets when they are then up all night with a hyperactive sugar fueled child! 

There are loads of other reasons beside these to avoid Halloween, but there are also many ways to offer an alternative to Halloween for all children, but especially for children with additional needs and their families so that they can join in too; here’s 10 ideas:  

10 Helpful ‘Alternative Halloween’ Ideas 

  1. Prepare them in advance, giving them a visual timetable of what is going to happen, how and when. This will help them to be less anxious about what might happen. 
  1. ‘Prime’ some friendly neighbours who are known to the children and that you can visit safely knowing that they won’t do anything scary or surprising. They can, for example, have their outdoor lights on and a bucket of packets of sweets or snacks ready for the children to enjoy safely. Maybe the children could sing their favourite song as a ‘thank you’. 
  1. If you are near the countryside, or a park, go for an autumn walk (or roll, make sure your route is accessible), collecting conkers and fir cones, picking blackberries, kicking or throwing up the fallen leaves, looking up at the stars. Remind the children to bring torches with them and have some hot chocolate and biscuits ready for when you get back home. 

4. Provide ear defenders for children with sensitivity to loud noise so that any unexpected noises, fireworks etc. are less of a problem. 

  1. Choose alternative, ‘bright and light’ outfits. It’s more about the dressing up than who can look the most terrifying and there are plenty of non-scary, positive, options to choose from. 
  1. With this in mind, maybe host an alternative ‘light party’, a counter-cultural celebration of things that are bright, light, colourful and good. Loads more variety with the dressing up, just as much fun, and no scares! Who can dress up in the brightest costume?! 
  1. Choose sugar free sweets, or better yet try some healthier snacks themed around Halloween (satsumas as ‘mini pumpkins’ with a smiley face for example). 
  1. Maybe even have an ‘autumn indoor picnic’ where you spread out some blankets and enjoy a feast together, or if the weather is good an autumn barbeque with lots of lighting to keep it bright. 

9. If you are hosting a light party or autumn picnic/barbeque, think about who might be left out and make sure you remember to invite them. 

  1. Have fun but keep checking on how each child is feeling. If they are struggling, have something that they love doing ready so that they can easily try that and have fun in a different way (carving pumpkins – they don’t have to be scary, making pumpkin mini-pies, decorating a jar to put a battery night-light in, a bubble machine, apple bobbing, toasting marshmallows…)And have a ‘safe space’ they can access if they just need a rest from all of the activities, fill it with cozy blankets, cushions, and provide soft lighting. 

I hope that ‘Alternative Halloween’ is a great success for you all this year, especially for those of you looking after children with additional needs! 

Five ways to support Additional Needs siblings, an overlooked group

This article is written by Mark Arnold’s daughter, Phoebe, who shares her experience of growing up as an additional needs sibling to her brother, James, as well as offering learnings for us all…

Growing up I didn’t often see a family unit similar to my own; from a young age I was a carer for my younger brother, James, who was diagnosed as Autistic and with Learning Difficulties when he was 2 ½ and I was 5.

By the time I was a teenager, James was still non-verbal and needed around-the-clock care.

As a young person this was my ‘normal’, however, it came with its challenges as I navigated my teenage years with a disabled brother.

This article shares five ways in which people who parent, care for, or work with, children and young people can help to support the siblings of children and young people with additional needs.

1. Notice

Growing a good relationship with the young person helps to keep useful communication open.

Encouraging this allows siblings and parents to discuss if anything has happened during the week, or the night before, and parents can be on the lookout for any potential behaviour changes or if the young person is ‘out of sorts’.

Young people that are in a family unit with a sibling with additional needs also have an increased chance of having difficulties with their mental health due to their intense home lives.

Parents and young people can work together in understanding what would work best to support them well (see: 4. ‘Offer Support’ later, for example).

2. Encourage

It is important to encourage siblings of children and young people with additional needs to think about how they respond to situations. For example, acknowledging that they may get frustrated with their sibling, but then encouraging them to exercise patience and kindness.

Sometimes the family unit prioritises their child with additional needs due to their significant needs, which can lead to the siblings lacking attention from parents.

The consequences of this can show up in different ways, like looking for additional and perhaps inappropriate attention elsewhere or having issues with control.

A way to manage this is to provide encouragement and appropriate attention and to understand that if there is a flare-up in behaviour then there is usually a cause such as something going on relating to their sibling, or that they are feeling neglected.

3. Listen

When telling someone their sibling has additional needs, young people can get awkward, and parents and carers might not know how they can help. It is essential to try and learn if the young person is comfortable talking about their sibling with other people or not.

Typically, for a young person with a sibling with additional needs, it can be normal to talk about their brother or sister at home, so helping them to start this conversation both at home and in other settings can be very encouraging to the young person.

This is a valuable conversation to have on a regular basis, as it gives young people an opportunity to safely discuss how they are feeling.

Siblings often feel they cannot talk to their parents about issues in their lives because they do not want to put anything more on their parent’s already overloaded plate.

Helping siblings to know that it’s OK to talk, particularly in stressful times for both them and their families, is important.

4. Practical support

Another way that parents and carers can support siblings of children and young people with additional needs is by identifying a safe space for them to come and use as a quiet environment for e.g. completing homework.

This could be at a friend or family members house, a library, or some schools offer homework clubs.

For these safe spaces, understanding and meeting siblings’ basic needs is crucial, such as supporting the young person by providing a snack if they have missed a meal, or a quiet place to relax or rest.

Also, it is helpful to be aware of resources to direct young people to, such as counselling, sibling groups, or respite care. This can be done effectively, without stepping on the toes of the parents, by working together to meet the needs of the young person.

It is great to connect families with children and young people with additional needs together, so creating opportunities for families to find those networks, share teas and coffees, or create other activities as a great way to support all of their families, including siblings.

A great support network for siblings is ‘SIBS’:

An organisation that helps set up additional needs family networks is ‘Take 5 and Chat’

5. Training

Growing up I found a church youth group where I could have time away from home in a ‘safe space’, which acted as respite for me.

During my teenage years, I had the opportunity to serve and get a break from my caring responsibilities at home when attending youth groups.

The youth groups provided respite from my brother, but there were times when my peers that had additional needs experienced over stimulation and sensory overload resulting in them getting overwhelmed and distressed.

My knowledge and experience of additional needs meant I ended up providing support for a peer due to our youth leaders lacking additional needs training.

This took away from the respite aspect of church and led to me going from being a young carer at home to having similar expectations for my peer at church.

Youth leaders having a basic level of additional needs training makes sure that youth groups can include children of all needs and abilities.

If siblings are in the same youth group as their brother or sister who has additional needs, then the sibling may be happy to help with their support and care, but sometimes they will want to focus on doing their own thing.

Ensuring that the young person is not solely responsible for their sibling with additional needs while at youth group is useful as it allows them to make their own choices about their caring responsibilities.

Find out about additional needs training here:

I hope these five ideas may help in supporting the siblings of children with additional needs, however, they may have ideas and strategies themselves that are much more effective for them.

Start opening up those conversations, siblings can really benefit from extra support but feel like they are not entitled to it because they are not the sibling with additional needs.

Encouragement goes a long way so don’t be afraid to start that conversation!

Phoebe Arnold

10 ‘Top Tips’ For Returning To School

As the return to the new school year gets closer for many of us, or has already started for some, it can be a time of great anxiety and stress for all children and young people, especially children and young people with additional needs. It can be a challenging and difficult time for parents and carers too, so here’s 10 ‘Top Tips’, as well as some handy web links, that will equip us to help our children return to school well. Ahead of the first day

· Take anxiety and worries seriously. It’s easy to put their concerns off or to convince ourselves that ‘they will be fine’, but the reality is that we could just be building up trouble for the first day if we put off taking their anxiety and worries seriously.

By engaging with them about this early, it gives us more time to help and support them and more time for them to process the support that we are providing for them.

· Create a ‘social story’ about the return to school. Social stories can use images, symbols, as well as text, to help communicate new or complex things to children. A social story that tells them about their new class or school, the staff they will meet, and what they will be doing, all can help to prepare them for the first day.

An example of a social story that can help here is provided by Reachout ASC:

· Create a visual timetable for the first day, showing each stage of the day (you’ll need to get info from school for this). A visual timetable helps children to know what is happening now, next and later, what they need to do, and helps them to remain in control of what they are doing.

A link to an example of a visual timetable resource from Twinkl is provided below:—girls

· Arrange to visit school ahead of the big day, if possible, while it is quiet, to walk through the corridors, see the classroom, maybe meet the teacher/TA etc. Some schools have training days ahead of school opening and it may be possible to arrange a short visit during these days. It’s well worth asking.

On the first day:

· Parents/carers, try to suppress your own anxiety! It’s hard, but children are very perceptive and can pick up when we’re stressed, making them even more anxious. In their minds, if we’re anxious, it must be really bad!

· Get into a routine from day one. Use visual cues e.g. laying out their uniform. Have that visual timetable ready.

· If possible, have them go in on the first day with a friend, even if it’s just from the school gate. Is there something they can take with them that will help them to regulate their anxiety e.g. a fidget toy? (not something precious that might get lost!)

· They are likely to be exhausted when you pick them up. Don’t bombard them with questions the moment you see them or expect too much straight away. Give them some down time first, maybe with a drink and a snack. Later, ask them what they enjoyed most about school today.

· Let them do something they choose or want to do to finish the day positively. They have had other people (including us) telling them what to do all day, letting them choose what to do, or what we can have for our meal for example, gives them some control back over their day.

· Try to get them to bed early. They will be mentally and emotionally exhausted after the first day and so an early night will be helpful, but it will also pay off the next morning when they are fresher and more awake for day two!

Useful links:

Twinkl: There’s a free download on the Twinkl website that helps explain returning to school:

You will also be able to link to other helpful resources from here.

Widgit: There are also free resources about returning to school on the Widgit website:

Makaton: There’s a free downloadable pack about going back to school on the Makaton website too:

ReachoutASC: Lynn McCann at ReachoutASC has provided a wealth of free downloadable resources here:

Action for Children: Knowing how to talk things through with children can be hard, here’s some easy steps to follow from Action for Children:

Do-IT: A wide range of useful free downloadable resources can be found on the Do-IT website, under their rather appropriate heading of ‘Survive, Revive and Thrive’:

Manchester University Foundation Trust: Here’s a great resource written in collaboration between Manchester University Foundation Trust, Manchester Local Care Foundation and One Education, providing a really helpful guide for parents about many aspects of the return to school, along with some positive and useful resources:

Autism little Learners: Just love this site, so full of useful stuff and there are some great Social Stories on this link:

As with all Social Stories, these should be adapted or used as a starting point to create a specific version for each child. More information about how to create Social Stories can be found on Lynn McCann’s Reachout ASC site here:

Use these website resources help you to stay informed and able to inform and support your children as they return to school.

I hope these ‘Top Tips’ and website links are helpful for you as you navigate a path through the return to school with your child.

The Neurodiverse Coke Can

There is a great analogy that helps to explain why neurodiverse children (e.g. who are Autistic, or have ADHD) are perceived to be able to ‘cope’ and be ‘fine’ at school, but can become overwhelmed by the time they get home. There are so many stories about children who appear to be totally different in these two settings; the coke can analogy helps us understand why… Here’s Jack’s story: 

  1. Tired 

Jack was up late last night, he wanted to play Fortnite with his friends and it inevitably ran on past bedtime. All that screen time made it hard for him to get to sleep, so when he was woken up to get ready for school he was tired – ‘shake the coke can’ 

  1. Transport 

Jack usually gets picked up by school transport. The usual transport escort is off sick, so a replacement has been sent. They don’t know Jack and he doesn’t know them. They don’t realise that Jack has to sit by the window facing the front otherwise he gets travel sick – ‘shake the coke can’ 

  1. Bullying 
    As Jack arrives at school and heads to his classroom, two other pupils are waiting for him. They enjoy mocking Jack because he is Autistic. Jack’s parents have spoken to the school about it but the school feel that Jack is overreacting – ‘shake the coke can’ 
  1. Teacher 
    Mrs. Smith is Jack’s favourite teacher; she understands him and helps him to know what to do in lessons. Often, she prepares resources just for Jack that he finds really helpful. Mrs. Smith is away from school today so a supply teacher is taking the class, she doesn’t know anything about Jack, she hasn’t prepared any resources to help him – ‘shake the coke can’ 
  1. Noise 
    The supply teacher finds it hard to control the class, some of them become very noisy and disruptive. Jack finds loud noise overwhelming; he has ear defenders, but he gets mocked when he uses them. Mrs. Smith makes sure this doesn’t happen, but she’s not here today – ‘shake the coke can’ 
  1. Hungry 
    Jack has a free school meal. There isn’t much choice about what he is given. Today it’s fish pie… Jack was hoping for sausages or pizza. He doesn’t like fish pie and so doesn’t eat it. He’s hungry now – ‘shake the coke can’ 
  1. Playtime 
    Jack goes out into the playground. His usual friend, Jaden, is involved in a game with some other boys and Jack doesn’t want to push in. The two boys that bullied him earlier are in the playground too, so Jack goes inside to hide in the library on his own until the bell goes – ‘shake the coke can’ 
  1. Routine 
    Because Mrs. Smith is away, they have changed the timetable for the afternoon and are going to do PE instead of the usual maths lesson. Jack hates PE, the hall is noisy, he’s not very coordinated in his movements, his balance isn’t great, and he can’t run very fast. He gets mocked for this too. He loves maths, but maths isn’t happening this afternoon. The usual routine has changed, Jack finds all of this very hard to process and adapt to – ‘shake the coke can’ 
  1. Transport (2) 
    After a difficult drive into school this morning, Jack is dreading the journey home. His anxiety levels are rising fast and when he sees that it’s the replacement escort again, he almost has a panic attack. The replacement escort doesn’t listen to Jack when he says that he has to sit by the window facing forwards. Jack feels travel sick all of the way home – ‘shake the coke can’ 
  1. Missing bag 
    As the transport turns into Jack’s street, he reaches for his bag. It’s not there. He suddenly realises that in dealing with almost having a panic attack at school he forgot to pick his bag up from the peg. It’s got his dirty PE kit in it, his homework for this evening, but also his comfort toy that goes everywhere with him. Jack asks if the transport can return to school so that he can get his bag, but he is told he will have to get it tomorrow – ‘shake the coke can’ 

Jack arrives home. As far as school are concerned, he’s ‘coped’ and been ‘fine’ today.

Jack has managed changes of routine, changes of staff, bullying, tiredness, sensory overload, hunger, isolation, loss of his bag, increasing anxiety and panic, travel sickness, and more.

He’s just about held it all together because if he can’t hold it all together at school he is mocked and bullied by the other pupils, the teachers think he’s being badly behaved, and he ends up with trouble all around. 

As he walks through the front door, his parent asks him “Did you have a good day at school today, Jack?” and in doing so metaphorically pulls the ‘ring pull’ on the coke can that has been shaken all day… Boom! Jack erupts, and his parent wonders why this always happens at home and not at school… 

Summer Holiday reading for parents and carers of children with Additional Needs

It’s holiday season! That time when we either pack up our stuff and head somewhere for a week or two, or maybe have a ‘staycation’ and relax a bit locally. Either way, a popular item in our collection of things for the holidays is our reading list; some great books that will entertain, delight, scare or surprise us! 

But how about if we think about this from the point of view of parents and carers of children with additional needs.

What books might we add to our summer reading list that will give us some helpful understanding or top tips that will help us with our child?  
Here’s some book recommendations from me that you might like to add to your summer additional needs reading list! 
‘The Reason I Jump’ – Naoki Higashida – ISBN 978-1-444-77675-1 

Written by an Autistic boy when aged 13, telling his story and describing the world as he experiences it. There is also an award-winning film based on the book 

‘My Diary’ – Emily Owen – ISBN 978-1-78893-166-3 

A real story of childhood disability, challenge, and hope. Covering issues of self-image, self-worth, loss, faith, perseverance, and mental health through the experience of a teenager. 

‘Eye Can Write’ – Jonathan Bryan – ISBN 978-1-91160-078-7 

A true story of a child growing up unable to speak or communicate, then given the tools and belief to release his potential and unlock his communication. A personal and powerful story. 

‘The Story Behind The Songs’ – Kat Mills – ISBN 978-1-9160-7440-8 

Written by adult who identifies as Autistic and also has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), sharing the related stories behind some of her highly acclaimed and successful songs. 

‘The Life You Never Expected’ – Andrew & Rachel Wilson – ISBN 978-1-78359-352-1 

Sometimes as parents you end up living the life you never expected, as the writers did when both their children were diagnosed with additional needs. This is a story about surviving and thriving. 

‘Shattered’ – Rachel & Tim Wright – ISBN 978-1-78259-896-1 

This is not a ‘fix it quick’ kind of book… this is the book you want when your dreams seem out of reach. Bravely honest, funny, faith filled, and refreshing. 

‘A Boy Made Of Blocks’ – Keith Stuart – ISBN 978-0-7515-6327-6 

Inspired by the author’s experiences with his own son, this book is a moving, hilarious and most of all true-to-life story of love, family, Minecraft, and Autism. 

‘One Thousand Gifts’ – Ann Voskamp – 978-0-310-32191-0 

A book that will challenge you to look differently at each day, to count your blessings, to live fully right where you are. It will help you look away from the dark places and to see the glimmers of light. 

‘Forest School and Autism – A Practical Guide’ – Michael James – ISBN 978-1-78592-291-6 

Michael James runs his own Forest School in Somerset. He has 15+ years experience working as a support worker for Autistic people and is a member of the Forest School Association. 

I hope you enjoy these book list recommendations and find them helpful. If you know other parents or carers on a similar journey to yours, why not start a book club and meet over a coffee to chat about the books you’ve read! 
Happy summer! 

How to cope in the heat with children with additional needs

“Phew! Wot A Scorcher!” screams the newspaper headlines as the temperature rises to new record levels once again, but for families with children with additional needs, the screams are all too real as they and their children struggle to cope with the heat.

So, here’s some links to places that families of children with additional needs can go to get some help and advice as we all try to support our children…

Mummy Est.2014
This is a great website for families of children with additional needs, and a recent blog post is packed with helpful tips to cope with the heat.

Heatwave with kids: Ways to handle a heatwave

Red Cross

Always a useful resource for health and safety tips, the Red Cross website has a great article with seven things to remember in a heatwave.

Heatwave UK: Top tips for keeping cool

BBC News

The Disability area of the BBC News website is always worth a look, and it currently has a really helpful article about cooling solutions for disabled people of any age, including children.

Disability and the heatwave: Cooling solutions and disability as weather alert goes red

The SEN Resources Blog

Another useful website for families and carers to explore anyway, but the SEN Resources Blog also has this useful article to help keep our children cool during the heatwave.

How To Keep Kids Cool During The Heatwave

And finally… here’s some resources from Twinkl to help to explain about the heatwave to your additional needs children…


Lots of resources including visuals to help you to explain about the heatwave to your child

I hope this provides you with a head start as you look to keep your child with additional needs safe and cool during the heatwave, and as you help them to understand more about the heatwave too.

Keep safe!

Happy Birthday? Why Getting Birthdays Right Matters!

June is the month where three generations of Arnold’s celebrate their birthdays; James, me and my Dad.

Chronologically, and just by a few hours, the first is James’ birthday.

Although things are gradually getting back to some sense of post-pandemic normality for many, due to James additional needs this is the third birthday that we’ve not been able to celebrate with him as we would have liked. But that didn’t mean that we had to abandon James’ birthday celebrations, we just had to adapt them, and we found that they worked much better!

It was going to be difficult to invite family and friends around for the big day, but we could arrange to chat with them virtually.

It wasn’t possible for James to see many people arriving with cards and packages for him, so we asked people to send cards and packages through the post instead.

Word spread, and by the time of his birthday, 75 cards had arrived as well as a stack of parcels.

More arrived over the subsequent couple of days, the postman was curious to know what was going on and why James was so popular!

We couldn’t easily go out somewhere for a meal, so we had a special birthday meal delivered to us! And there was cake, of course!

So it was a different birthday, an alternative birthday, but James had a brilliant time.

He didn’t have to battle through the social anxiety and exhaustion of loads of people arriving at home, he didn’t have to cope with the sensory overload of visiting somewhere for a meal, there was no queueing or waiting, he could stay in his safe space at home and have his birthday come to him… and he loved it!

It took ages to open, look at, and line up all of the cards.

People knew that James loves Minions, and Winnie the Pooh, and Star Wars, and animals, so the cards reflected this. Some lit up, some made sounds, some were handmade, they were all very much appreciated.

It took ages to eat the meal that arrived, James’ favourite Chinese food, and it was a struggle to find room for the cake afterwards, but we bravely managed to squeeze a piece in! There was no rush, no one hovering to say that they were waiting for the table, it was all very relaxed.

As you can see from the header photo, James had a fabulous birthday, and he taught us a valuable lesson… Birthdays are important days to celebrate, but in doing so we should make sure that the celebration reflects the needs of the individual, and those needs might be different to what everyone else expects or even wants.

Pandemic birthdays have been the perfect birthdays for James and so next year, assuming that the world is a safer place by then, we might just have a special one-day lockdown again and celebrate in a more relaxed way.

Happy birthday, James!

Bad Language

I recently asked a whole bunch of parents of disabled children, and disabled people themselves, what they think of as some of the most inappropriate or downright offensive language that they have heard or experienced as a result of their own or their child’s disability.

The result was a huge discussion that produced a massive list of words and phrases, far more than there is space for in this blog post, although I’ve included a list of some of the most quoted ones below…

What also emerged is that there isn’t universal agreement on some of this; some words, labels and descriptions are owned by some people and anathema to others.

What is clear, however, is that first and foremost, disabled people (of any age) have the right to use whatever words, labels, descriptions etc. that they feel are applicable for them, and nobody has the right to tell them that they are wrong.

So, caveats all in place, here’s just some of the words that people mentioned, starting with the ones used to belittle, diminish, put down, be nasty to, or otherwise insult disabled children (and indeed adults too). I’ve sorted them alphabetically, and even just doing that I was deeply troubled by this list…


Bad (as in ‘bad behaviour’)








Doesn’t care (also, ‘lacks empathy’)


Has ‘issues’


Lame (as in dull, uninspiring; see other use below)


Not normal







Waste of space

Wrong (as in ‘something is wrong with them’)

(There were many more words than this sent to me, I’ve only included a selection here)

A few other words came up that have historical use, and which should be consigned to history, but it seems are still in use by some people today, including professionals who should know better…




A few people picked up on words that are used in literature, even in fairly modern versions of the Bible for example, such as…


Lame (as in walks with difficulty, see other use above)

Other words or phrases that deserve their own category include these…

A bit special… (as in ‘they’re a bit special’, or ‘a bit Autistic’ or ‘a bit OCD’, for example)

Doesn’t look… (as in, ‘he doesn’t look Autistic to me’, usually by someone with no relevant experience)

Fits (rather than the more encompassing ‘seizures’ that reflects the wide range of seizure activity)

Has e.g. Autism (rather than ‘is Autistic’. It’s not possible to ‘have Autism’ any more than it is possible to ‘have gay’ or ‘have female’)

High/Low Functioning etc. especially related to Autism (generally falling out of use, often unhelpful)

Mum/Dad (when being referred to by professionals)

Non-verbal (rather than ‘limited functional verbal language’ which recognises that some sounds are still communication)

Service user/Client (when being referred to by professionals)

Severe (when in reference to e.g. Autism, ADHD, or other neurodivergences)

Suffers/Sufferer (as in, ‘she suffers from Cerebral Palsy’)

Wheelchair ‘bound’ (rather that ‘uses a wheelchair’)

There is also a wide debate as to what the most appropriate phrase to use is out of…

Special Needs vs Additional (Learning/Support) Needs vs Disability/Disabled

‘Disability’ is a term defined in law (paraphrasing the Equality Act 2010) as a physical or mental impairment.

The effect on normal day to day activities is substantial and long term.

A child or adult who is disabled, whether this is a physical, mental, or other disability, experiences a substantial loss or limitation of the opportunity to participate in everyday life and do normal day to day activities on an equal level to that of their peers due to barriers resulting from their disability (or societal barriers due to lack of adequate accessibility).

The terms ‘Special Needs’ or ‘Additional Needs’ (‘Additional Learning Needs’ in Wales, ‘Additional Support Needs’ in Scotland) are less clearly defined, and although ‘Additional Needs’ is generally in wider use now, ‘Special Educational Needs’ or SEN (sometimes ‘SEND’ adding Disability on the end) is in common use when referring to school age children.

What was generally agreed on is that terms such as ‘differently abled’ shouldn’t be used.

Almost finally, a helpful website was suggested that adds some further thoughts to this conversation:

And finally, just a reminder that some of the above is open to debate, discussion and polite disagreement.

As I mentioned at the beginning, it is up to disabled children and adults themselves to decide what terms to use (or not use) regarding themselves, and however passionate we might be about stopping or promoting the use of certain words and phrases, we should all respect the rights of each individual to use what they feel is right for them.

As for me, I’ll let my last words on this not actually be mine but T.S. Eliot’s, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”

10 Top Tips For A Successful Summer Holiday!

Whisper it very quietly, but maybe, just maybe, it might be possible to have a holiday this year!

After over two long years of restrictions, lockdowns, red-lists, cancellations and reschedules, this summer might be the one where some sense of holiday ‘normality’ returns!

So, what do we need to do to prepare our additional needs children and young people for those holidays to come, whether they are overseas, UK based, or as remains the case for some of us, a staycation; here’s 10 top tips to help:

  1. Don’t leave it to the last minute – allow processing time

While the attraction of late holiday deals can be tempting, leaving deciding whether to go and where to go until the last minute can make it really difficult for children and young people who need processing time to prepare for a significant change. Plan as far in advance as you can.

  • Take a mental ‘journey’ though the holiday – list the likely issues

Think about everything from the packing, the travelling, where you are going to stay and sleep, the things you are going to do on holiday, the people you might have with you and the people you might meet, the food you are going eat, everything. What are the likely issues going to be for your additional needs child or young person? List them, and then start to think about how to reduce the impact of each one. For example, if food is going to be an issue, could you contact the holiday provider and request a special menu? Or could you take some favourite food items with you?

  • Create a ‘social story’ for the holiday

A ‘social story’ is a sheet that uses photo’s, symbols and words to explain a bit about something new or complex for a child or young person with additional needs. You could create one for the holiday to outline all of the different things that your child or young person needs to know, giving them the tools to understand what the holiday will be like.

You can find out more about social stories on the Reachout ASC website here:

  • Create a ‘visual timetable’

Put together a plan for each day, using symbols or photo’s to represent each aspect of that day for your child or young person. If possible, have a photo of them on some Velcro that they can move along the timetable as you go through the day. It will help them to know what is happening now, next, after, etc. There is an example of a visual timetable template on the Reachout ASC website above, called ‘Our Day At Home’.

  • Take favourite things

What favourite toys or items does your child or young person use to help them to feel safe and secure? Make sure these aren’t forgotten, but pack them in your hand baggage, you don’t want them getting lost! It may be that you could introduce a new item to take on holiday, something related to the place you are going; for example, if you are heading to Cornwall, you could get a toy seal to take with you for when you visit the Seal Sanctuary at Gweek. The toy seal could be your ‘holiday mascot’ and your child could have the job of looking after it.

  • Having a ‘dry run’ and checking out special assistance

If you are going to fly, and if the airport you are going to isn’t too far away, you could take a journey just to see it, to have a look at where everything is. Most airports have special assistance for families travelling with a child or young person with additional needs, so it would be worth exploring what can be provided. Many airlines are supportive too, but it helps to ask for assistance well in advance.

  • Have things to do

Whether you are flying, going by train, or travelling by car, there will be long periods with nothing to do. Take a pack of activities that can be brought out to fill these gaps. Depending on your child, this could be some colouring, a book to look at, some fidget toys to use, some Lego, or something on their tablet to watch or listen to, whatever helps them fill the time and not get bored.

  • Remember snacks, drinks, medication, essential equipment…

We usually remember important things like tickets, passport, money, phones etc. but make a list of what else you will need. Do you need to take medication with you? Have you got enough, or do you need to request a repeat prescription well in advance? Have you got some snacks and drinks for the journey; don’t rely on being able to stop somewhere on the way, you might be stuck in a huge traffic jam just at the time someone communicates that they are thirsty or hungry.

  • Work with your child or young person, ask them

Don’t do all of these things on your own; if possible, involve your child or young person. Seek their input, what are the things that they are worried about? What do they want to have with them to help them feel safe? What resources will help them feel in control of what’s going on? The more you talk about the holiday and work together through any fears, the more likely you are to have a successful trip. It’s back to that ‘processing time’ that I mentioned in Tip 1.

  1. And finally… it’s OK to have a staycation instead!

If it all seems too daunting, too much to manage for you and your additional needs child or young person, if the complexities of trying to have a holiday somewhere else are just too great, don’t put yourselves through a nightmare, have a staycation!
Some of the tips above will still work if you are staying at home but having trips out, and you can all have a wonderful time staying local and exploring what’s on offer there. And everyone gets to sleep in their own beds each night!

Whatever you are hoping to do this summer, I hope these 10 tips will be a helpful reminder of some things that we can all do to make summer holidays a little less stressful and a little more fun. Have a great time!