OK, so since we got “the diagnosis”, before we head to new places, especially places that cost a lot of money, I have taken to googling that place plus choice words such as “disability” “sen” “autism” and “asd” to try and find reviews or clues as to whether this place is even worth contemplating visiting or is destined for disaster. The results are few and far between, so I figured I’d do it myself in the hopes of assisting others in similar predicaments. So instead of just writing a generic “here’s what we did at half term”, I’m going to be doing that, but with the added bonus of evaluating each outing on it’s suitability for a child such as mine. Here goes…
Monday was a bank holiday so we had hubby home (hurrah!). I decided we would go to Beachy Head to look for fossils as T is really into the idea of being a museum curator at the moment. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any fossils, but there is an awesome group that meet once a month and guarantee fossil finding success: http://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/beachy_head_fossils.htm
Despite the lack of fossils, we had a lovely walk along the cliff and down the slightly terrifying steps/ladder, a rummage in the rock pools and a very windy picnic. Parking was free which is always a bonus, and there was a children’s playground and a cafe and gardens where we had parked on the main road. No real SEN review needed here, obviously we had to be vigilant on the cliff and on the rocks but no dramas.
Tuesday I was riding solo and we were meant to be going to Leith Hill with friends but it poured it down with torrential rain literally ALL DAY. Instead, said friends invited us round, and the kids watched a film and played with the Wii and generally caused mayhem in her home.
Wednesday we had a bit of a group outing of 3 adults and 8 children to Hever Castle. We love Hever Castle and have annual membership as it’s such good value and it’s easy to spend a day there. We have only been into the actual castle twice, and I don’t personally consider it particularly child friendly, especially not curious/not listening/like to touch children. It makes me incredibly anxious just being in there and so I avoid it most visits. That said, if you have a child who’s into their history or museums or art, I’m sure they would love it and I personally found it interesting, my kids are just the wrong age and mindset. The gardens are HUGE and you can happily wander/run around, and in the holidays and on special occasions they have all sorts of things going on such as trails, live performances, role play characters, and jousting. In addition to the gardens there is a massive lake and we walked round it for the first time this week and it was quite a pleasant walk. There is also a water maze during the good weather season, which is good fun for the kids but can result in a few injuries and a lot of tears when they start running around and slipping, and of course you need to take towels and a change of clothes with you which can be a bit of a nuisance but we still use a buggy for the bear to carry all the stuff more than anything, and the gardens/grounds are very buggy/wheelchair friendly. In addition to all this, there is also a kids playground, a maze, and you can pay extra to have a go at archery. I cannot recommend Hever enough for kids of most ages, and there are no real barriers to those with additional needs, in fact, the big open spaces allow a lot of freedom, and the flowers and shrubs and water provide a range of sensory experiences too.
Thursday was our slightly ambitious trip to Drusillas Zoo. We may have underestimated how busy it was, and when we arrived at 11am it was absolutely heaving, with a long queue to pay to get in. We had brought our DLA forms as Drusillas offer a free adult carer with every full paying child with a DLA letter or professionals letter explaining why the child can’t go along. Whilst they sound quite specific, the woman just skim read ours and nowhere does it specifically say that, it just says we have high care so I think that was it. My friend had the bright idea of going to ask in visitor services if there was any way we could bypass the ridiculously long queue to get in as our children were clearly not going to cope, well, mine at least. Having read the website and reviews before we set off, there was no mention of assistance for children with disabilities but when my friend went to visitor services, she was given an access pass for both our children, which allowed the entire party queue jump for all rides and we were allowed to go through the ‘annual pass’ queue to pay to get in. This was a massive unexpected bonus, and I really don’t understand why they don’t publicise this as for a lot of families these touches are make or break when decided whether to visit somewhere. That said, trying to attract the attention of staff members to actually use the ride passes was a bit of a mission, and with the Thomas train we felt a bit embarassed as we were walked in front of everyone whilst the guy unlocked the special ‘disability’ carriage at the front of the train for us, complete with wheelchair ramp. He offered us the carriage behind as well but we felt that sitting on the floor in the ‘disability carriage’ felt better as that way we hadn’t ‘taken’ anyone’s seats, as it were. Another flaw of Drusilla’s is the play area. There are 2 play areas and a splash pad type thing all linked together and surrounded by shops and cafes but no way of keeping an eye on more than one child, and nothing stopping them wandering off. It’s basically a safeguarding nightmare. As it happens, we managed to lose Dolly and it took us about 20minutes to realise she was actually missing, as opposed to somewhere in the vast play area, and then I had to park all the kids in the soft play with my friend, dump all my stuff in a locker (which, by the way, KEEPS YOUR POUND) and go on a mission to find her. We had run through some safety basics and what to do if they got lost before they had gone to play, and one of the things we said was to go in a shop, so I went in the nearest one and as I did, the tannoy above it announced that another shop had my daughter and could I please come and collect her. Having retrieved her, a lovely lady approached me and said she’d found her crying in the cafe where we had eaten lunch (and she had last seen me) and she’d been able to give her name, my name, and that I was wearing a blue top. The woman became more worried after leaving her with the staff and returning to the playground to realise you can’t hear the tannoy in the playground which is obviously a concern as that’s naturally where you are looking for your missing child.
In conclusion, I generally consider Drusilla’s poor value for money but if you go off-peak or have a DLA letter, then it is a lot more reasonable. The ‘zoo’ section is rather large and if your kids have an interest in the animals, then it’s great as there are stamps to collect as you go around and the information is educational, but mine don’t have the attention span for that and run from one enclosure to the next. Going off-peak, or if you home ed, then on a school day, would obviously be preferable but do know that if it’s busy you can go to visitor services for the access pass. Avoid the adventure playground like the plague, unless you have enough adults to supervise each individual child, or very confident, and sensible children who will know what to do if they can’t find you.
Friday we went to Alice Holt forest to do the Gruffalo and Stick Man trail. We live in Crawley and the Sat Nav said it was a 1hr 4min drive but with traffic it took an hour a half. Weirdly, without traffic, the drive home took the same amount of time. I don’t know what happens but 20-30mins magically get added to the satnavs estimate! Alice Holt is free to enter but you have to pay for parking. It went up in increments but I think 4hrs/all day was £8ish if I remember correctly. It’s all ticketless and you pay using your registration number before you leave.
The whole thing is basically a massive forest (hence the name) but they have made set trails for you to follow (maps are free from information desk), with details on how accessible they are, how far they are, and how long they might take. There is a dedicated cycle trail as well I think. There’s also toilets, a cafe, and a playground. We were there from 11ish – 4ish in the end and spent all of that in the playground and just doing the StickMan trail. The trail had activities to complete at every sign post, such as making a nest from twigs, or making a den, and the kids got really into it. You could buy a trail pack for £3, which we did, and it had some pipe cleaner to make a stickman, a trail sheet, a colouring sheet, and an activity sheet, with pencil and crayon (for doing bark rubbings). It was a lovely walk and the kids all seemed to enjoy it. Even though the car park was absolutely heaving, there were so many trails and the forest so big that it didn’t feel busy at all. The cafe served hot and cold food, drinks, and snacks and took into account food allergies, and seemed standard pricing for the setting (slices of cake £2.95-4 for example). It was great for all our kids as they were out in the fresh air, there were no rules or pressure, no real dangers present, and they had the freedom to run around, climb, and engage in the activities if they wanted. We didn’t take the buggy but as I say, accessibility is mentioned in the leaflet and the route we were on felt very accessible for all.
So there you have it. Sorry if it’s a bit lengthy but my posts are never short! Will do our weekend activities in another post another time but hope this has been of some help to people 🙂