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For families of children and young people with SEN and disabilities helpline 01273 772289

choosing leisure activities

Like everyone else, children and young people with special needs want to have a social life and take part in activities they enjoy. But as a parent you want to know that they will be welcome, safe and supported.

softplayWhen you’re considering new activities you may have lots of questions. But if you try to answer them all at the same time, it may feel like your child is too hard to include. So sometimes it’s useful to sit and see how a session runs. Written policies are fine, but what happens in practice is more important. Also, ask other children, young people and parents what they think. Their views might offer different perspectives that enrich your impressions.

When parents need to stay

Don’t dismiss a club because parents are required to stay. Some of the best activities are organised by other parents and volunteers who cannot take responsibility for supervising children who need the toilet or want to sit out for a bit. Sometimes you have to balance the value of a free or inexpensive opportunity for your child against the chance to have a break yourself. Also, these are often the places to meet other parents and exchange advice and support.

Inclusive or exclusive?

Sometimes disabled children and young people want to be like their non-disabled peers and to distance themselves as much as possible from their differences or disabilities. So they may want to join an activity that includes all kids, including those with special needs (we describe these as ‘inclusive’). At other times the same children may only feel confident in more exclusive activities alongside their disabled peers. Be aware how your child feels.

What matters to your child?

Remember, children just want to make friends and have fun. It’s easy to get too hooked up on rules and protocols, structure and learning outcomes, although these are all important. Encourage your child to think about what’s important – often things that might seem insignificant to us make a big difference to them. Once they’ve joined an activity ask your child how things are going and listen to them on all channels – if not in words, they may tell you through their behaviour or gestures what they do and don’t enjoy.

Your other children matter too

Obviously there’ll be times when you want to do things as a family, but sometimes brothers and sisters who don’t have special needs will want the chance to do things on their own. If you have other children in your family, don’t forget the Young Carers Project, run by the Carers Centre, offers them opportunities for social activities with other young people who share the experience of living with someone who is ill or disabled. Autism Sussex not only runs activities for children and young people on the Autistic Spectrum, but organises separate activities for siblings too. And you may find that inclusive activities are suitable for children with and without additional needs.

You matter too

It can seem like the hardest thing of all, but you need to look after your own health and well-being too. The Carers’ Card is a free leisure incentive card in Brighton & Hove that’s designed especially for carers, and parent carers of Compass Card holders under 25 automatically qualify. See our Carers’ Card page to find out more.

When you are considering new activities you may have lots of questions. What will happen if my child is upset or has a tantrum? Is there a safe place to let off steam? What are the rules? Are they simple, fair, and make sense to the children? What happens if things don’t go as expected? What’s in place to help a child deal with disappointment? Will my child be encouraged to do as much as they can for themselves but not be left to struggle with things they can’t manage, or allowed to take unreasonable risks?

If you ask all your questions at the same time, it may feel like your child is too hard to include. So sometimes it’s useful to sit and see how a session runs. Written policies are fine, but what happens in practice is more important. Also, ask other children, young people and parents what they think. Their views might offer different perspectives that enrich your impressions.

You can get more tips on choosing leisure activities in our Choosing Leisure activities fact sheet

Further information

If your child has significant special needs, they’ll be eligible for a Compass Card and around 90 free or discounted leisure offers. See our Compass pages for more information.

Download our fact sheet Fun Things to do for all Ages: it’s packed with information on about 100 different organisations and activities in and around Brighton.

There are also lots of websites that have information on leisure activities in the city. Try Child Friendly Brighton for starters; it includes a special needs section.

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