It’s pouring with rain. It doesn’t feel like June at all. But the ‘summer’ holidays will soon be upon us.
It’s hard to keep children entertained all summer. I know they say that it’s good for children to be bored as it makes them think creatively about what to do with their time. But, personally, I think one of the reasons my boys have improved so much is that we expose them continually to new ideas and activities, different experiences. Of course, we still visit lots of tried and tested favourite places as we do like routine!
Firstly and most importantly. Admission charges.
Many places will offer discounts to children with special needs. In our picnic backpack, we carry copies of the boys’ EHCPs – the pages with their names on and most importantly, the page stating their disability. You need to prove that your child has autism. We also have letters from our GP stating that they need a carer with them. PIP awards or DLA are also good documentation to show. Finally, our borough supplies photo cards via social services. In London, if you qualify for free travel with a Freedom Pass, this also works as photo ID.
I learnt the hard way in the early days when I did not realise we could get discounted entrance. I remember taking the boys to the London Acquarium. The twins were nearly four and Hector, was just one and at that stage had not regressed into autism. He loved it and was happily pointing at fish and shrieking with delight. The twins meanwhile were freaked by the underground darkness. Sensory overload kicked in, they lay on the floor in meltdown and we only managed to stay half an hour in total. A very expensive outing.
So I don’t feel bad about getting discounts. Often our children do not get full use of their entrance ticket price.
CEA cards cost a £6 admin fee and entitle the holder to a free carer ticket every time they go to the cinema. Some cinemas offer autism friendly screenings where the lights are not turned down so low and no one minds if your child is unable to sit quietly in their seat. We are all in it together at those screenings. We did those for many years as practice until finally , the boys could tolerate sitting for the duration of a film. They have always loved going to the cinema.
ZSL London and Whipsnade zoos offer free entry to a carer with any child who is disabled. We have annual passes as it works out much more economical over a year. At Whipsnade, there is also a steam train ride (much loved) for which you can get discounted tickets too.
Merlin passes cover a range of theme parks and attractions . If you buy an annual pass, you can get a free carer pass to go with it. Each park seems to have a different system for those with autism to try and prevent them standing in long queues waiting to go on a ride. Ask at the guest services. One year, I met a family who also had a son with autism waiting at the exit of the train ride in Legoland and we have been friends since.
Carers do not have to be named or the same ones to accompany your child. With the zoo and merlin passes, the child’s photo is on them and so whoever accompanies that child can be the carer who goes free.
A few theatres offer relaxed performances for those with autism and other disabilities but these don’t happen very often so you need to keep an eye out for them. The NAS have a list of upcoming relaxed shows on their website. The Proms now do a special needs prom each year for example. They may also send out a social story beforehand and on the day, there are staff more than happy to help with assistance. And of course, there is no one tutting at you if your child makes a noise or needs to come and go out of their seat.
We have also found that some theatres will offer access discounted tickets for those with disabilities and their carers. They don’t always advertise this so we always phone up and ask before booking any tickets.
Soft play centres and trampoline parks usually offer a discount and often a carer for free too. You do tend to need a carer able to stay and jump with your child as they can be quite busy places and injuries can happen due to other children being boisterous.
Last year, we finally took the plunge and took the boys to Disneyland Paris. It’s very expensive but, fortunately , we got free carer passes. We did need doctor’s letters as DLA, PIP and EHCPs aren’t sufficient evidence in France. We got passes so that we didn’t have to queue for any rides and could almost get straight on. Warning. The queue to not queue was pretty horrendous. That makes it a stressful start before you even get in the park. Once you are in though, the staff are great and it is magical.
If you don’t want to spend money there are usually free events over the summer. I tend to search online to see what is on in our area. Lots of summer fetes . Art galleries and musuems are usually free and you can pop in and out of those. Some have children’s activities at weekends. I once challenged a carer to take the boys into central London and not spend anything. They managed to have a great day out as there so many free places to visit.
The boys at the Natural History Museum (free entrance)