Sunday, 17 May 2015

Special Needs Day at London Zoo

Yesterday I visited London Zoo with my youngest son to attend their Special Needs Day.  It is the first time we have been and it was well worth the experience.

The general public are still allowed into the zoo, but the majority of guests appeared to be families of children with disabilities.  Tickets which we ordered online were at a discounted rate.  There was a separate entrance with no queues and by 10.30am we were looking at the animals.  More staff were working to assist visitors, as well as different activities available and lots of areas where families could chill out.  We did wildlife gardening and made a mini beast hotel for our garden as well as planted a seed.  There were art activities, ‘Singing Hands’ demonstration, sensory storytelling and many of the animal enclosure talks were done in sign language as well.  

We spent 6 ½ hours walking around the zoo as my son was mesmorised by the animals.  The gorillas were a huge hit – there were four adult gorillas and a newborn and we were lucky to see them outside on two occasions moving around and interacting with one another.  Tigers, giraffes, camels, zebras and penguins were also popular with my son.  He was captivated by the reptile house and aquarium.  The iconic Elephant House which I remember from my childhood is still part of the zoo, but the elephants all now live at Whipsnade Zoo.  Inside the Elephant House are smaller animals like meerkats, prairie dogs and the sleeping areas of bearded pigs and tapirs. 

It is not possible for us to visit a zoo and not buy a soft toy – it has become an obligatory item to live at the end of my son’s bed!!  Yesterday it had to be a gorilla, which he cuddled all night and has now made friends with an orangutan and chimpanzee that also live at the end of his bed, along with another 50 or so soft toys.

It seemed busy in the park, but once we left, we realised we had actually been in a quiet park of London in comparison to the walk back to Camden Town tube station along the canal towpath.  It is only 10 minutes away from the zoo, but it was so crowded that it became a little overwhelming for my son and he ensured his hood was up, head looking down at the floor and a tight grasp of my hand. 

As well as being a fabulous day out visiting somewhere that has fond memories for me from my childhood, it was lovely to have some 1:1 time with my son and for him to enjoy one of his interests.

Whipsnade Zoo are holding a Special Needs Day on 13 June 2015 and I would recommend going.  We are definitely going to go back to this event at London Zoo next year.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

School Trip to Normandy

Our daughter goes to Normandy with her school on Monday. She signed herself up for it last year, as she wanted to go abroad for the first time. I have full admiration for her wanting to try new experiences, as she knows she will suffer with high anxiety each time but it doesn't put her off.

At a meeting at school recently, we were advised that the school will be travelling on the Eurotunnel rather than a ferry.  This news has reduced some anxiety as one of her brothers has been telling her that the ferry will sink like the Titanic, so she’s been googling ferry disasters for awhile.  When there’s only 17 months between our two oldest children, there can be a lot of sibling rivalry/teasing.   This can be a recipe for disaster when you have an ASD child who is literal in their interpretation of what they are told each day.

Our daughter’s suitcase has been packed for 3 weeks with room for food as school are allowing her to take her own supplies, as she's such a fussy eater. At the moment she loves to eat a lemon each day and she's got the trip organiser to agree she can take a supply of lemons with her. I've tried to convince her that the hotel they are staying in will probably have some and she will be able to buy them on a trip to a local market but only ‘Aldi’ lemons will do!  I’ve drawn the line at her taking a lettuce with her – she can eat a whole one each day!

The hotel looks fantastic that they are staying in and is situated alongside a beach. Room allocation has been tricky and school has been very accommodating. However, disaster has struck this week, as our daughter is no longer talking to one of the girls who will be in her room. Friendships are so tricky anyway for girls at this age and when you add ASD into the equation the problems multiply.  To be fair she has taken it in her stride, as she lives in a black and white world, so she will stay in the room and not talk to the other girl.  She doesn’t see there will be a problem with this. It’s me as a mum who worries more!!

The hardest part of the trip though will be waking our daughter up to get on the coach as the children have to be at school at 3.45am. Our daughter is no early bird!!  She’s normally waking up at 7.45am to be ready to leave for school by 8.20am.  I’ve already told her she’s sleeping in her clothes to save time and hopefully make the wake up process less stressful.

The five days away will go quickly, as school has filled them with back to back activities.  In one way, this is good as our daughter already knows what the routine will be and has memorised what she is doing each day and at what time.  We’ve been emailed links to all of the places she will be visiting and she has familiarised herself with where they are going.  The downside is that she won’t get much time to chill on her own like she does at home.  An action plan has been put in place for her to talk to staff if she is feeling anxious or something has upset her.  Whether she decides to use the strategies is another matter, but it’s good that school are doing all they can to help her.

I’m expecting a daughter who is like a tightly sprung coil to return and sometime over the bank holiday weekend she will explode.  I’m hoping I’m proved wrong and if something causes her anxiety whilst she is away, she will speak to a member of staff or a friend.  If not, I know what to expect after other similar trips and as long as we give her space to chill out upon her return, she will hopefully settle back into a normal routine before long.  Preparation is always the key to things going right or wrong and fingers crossed we’ve done as much as we can.