Scottish Families Reveal Impact of Children’s Charity
Two Scottish families have spoken about the challenges they face with their disabled children, and the impact a children’s charity is making on their lives.
Marc and Lisa Fleming live in Monifieth, Angus with their 11-year-old twin boys Keir and Luka and daughter Rosie (7). Keir and Luka were both diagnosed with autism and ADHD at the age of three.
Marc said, “Bringing up twins is challenging enough but having two boys with additional support needs can be extremely tough. As they approached school age, it was becoming increasingly difficult to take them anywhere, especially when with just one parent as they need one-to-one supervision. We realised we had a real lack of social interaction outwith the family and it was becoming pretty hard to go anywhere and have a normal family experience with the kids. Through no fault of our own, we were also being excluded from days out with other families and could see we were at risk of only ever doing things on our own.”
Life began to change for the Fleming family seven years ago when the boys’ paediatrician recommended The Yard, which is celebrating its 35th birthday.
Marc explained, “The boys can be themselves in a non-judgemental environment, with staff who are trained to cope with the boys’ responses and stimulate their interest. Even though they’re twins, they don’t always want to be together so The Yard is big enough to allow them time to play apart, and play with others.
“If they have a meltdown or an off-day, it doesn’t matter. They’re comfortable there, they can express themselves without being judged. Neither the boys or we as parents get that freedom anywhere else, that acceptance. That gave us a new level of confidence and reassurance. It’s really tough as a parent worrying how your child might react or respond when out and about, and what other people think but, at The Yard, they don’t need to alter their behaviour just to be socially acceptable, no-one’s telling them to ‘calm down’ or ‘behave’ – the staff know exactly how to respond and support them.”
The added bonus to life at The Yard is that siblings and the wider family can also attend, a huge factor for the Fleming family with Rosie to consider too.
“One of us usually takes all three of the kids to give the other some peace or the chance to meet up with friends.
The Yard exists to support children from birth up to the age of 25. However, as the parents of 11-year-old boys, Marc and Lisa are acutely aware that the teenage years are approaching and have understandable concerns about the opportunities, or lack of, as they grow up.
“When we think ahead to the future, it can sometimes feel uncertain. It all boils down to the opportunities that are out there. As they become teenagers and young adults, we’d love them to enjoy normal social activities like going to a disco or a club. However, we do worry they might not get that sort of life experience and gain the skills they’ll need for adulthood and independence, but also just for their general wellbeing.
“We know that a purpose-built Yard is coming to Dundee and we’re hanging onto that because, longer-term, we will need more as a family, more activities and support and more time and days to attend. The prospect of being housebound with nowhere to go is real, but I very much hope that’s not the case and that The Yard can continue and expand on the brilliant and life-changing work that they do. Indeed, we’re hoping even more opportunities will open up to support the boys as they approach adulthood and need a sense of purpose to progress with the rest of their lives.”
Meanwhile, Vicky and Martin Gladstone live in Edinburgh with their two and a half-year-old son Miles.
Miles, who is currently undergoing assessment for Autism Spectrum Disorder, is overwhelmed in busy, noisy places and with limited speech, the family struggled to find somewhere suitable for Miles to play, worsened by Covid restrictions.
As Vicky said, “We didn’t want Miles to miss out on play, but none of the typical environments were working for us – we were crying out for a place where he could be himself in a non-judgemental environment.
“So much has changed since we started attending The Yard in Edinburgh. The big thing for us is his language – Miles was pretty much non-verbal when he started and is now starting to say a few words which is just amazing, often words associated with the main landmarks at The Yard like ‘the boat’. The Yard has also really brought on his number and colour recognition, all helped by simple things like the number bunting and the soft play. All of these tiny steps are a massive boost for his and our confidence.
“But most of all, it’s the safe, welcoming and relaxed environment which The Yard offers. It’s a huge, open space but laid out with real thought and a perfect mix of indoor and outdoor options. There’s only ever six to ten children at each Early Years session so it’s never overwhelming for children with sensory challenges. Miles loves being outside and flitting between the dry and the wet so, as well as taking part in activities alongside other children, he’s able to run outside and just do what he loves. He’s also trying lots of new things. Miles had never shown an interest in art or music but now we see him on the keyboard and in the art room which is lovely.
“The staff are also incredible at what they do – he’s forming a real bond with some of them and they know exactly when to approach and engage with him but also when to just stay back and observe. They can sense his body language and how to communicate with him which is so important on so many levels. Everything’s led by the child which allows him to think imaginatively with no limits, and just play the way he wants to within his own time and space. Where else could he do that?”
Of course, The Yard exists to support the whole family, not just the child and Vicky and her husband are benefitting from that wider community and friendship.
Vicky added, “We’re so pleased and relieved that we’ve found The Yard. We were actually contemplating moving out of Edinburgh but have decided to stay, partly because it feels like the right support is now falling into place for Miles, and us as a family. It’s just amazing to hear Miles putting a few words together in what has been a very short period of time and makes us realise what the potential could be. We’ve found a place where Miles can be himself and just relax, and that’s just the best feeling – it’s the highlight of Miles’ week and we hope to be involved with the wider Yard family for many years to come.”
To support The Yard’s 35th anniversary campaign, please visit https://www.theyardscotland.org.uk/