As a mum of a child with autism I know just how important it is to gain support from those around you who understand, namely other parent carers.
On Saturday March 1 this happened.
The North Lancashire Directions Group (NLDG) parent carer network held an information and fun day for children with additional needs and disabilities, their parents, carers and siblings. This is an annual even and what a fantastic time we had, as we always do every year.
The event is supported by Lancaster City Council, Lancaster Children's Centres and the Parent Partnership Service. Volunteers from the University of Cumbria helped on the day and 126 families attended which is absolutely phenomenal, this just clearly shows how very much the day was needed.
Many of the parents there gained information and advice from over the 30 stall holders who attended which included, local specialist schools in the area, local children's centres, the charity Cerebra, Contact a Family and the Parent Partnership Service. Literally a whole room full of advice at your fingertips. Of course as well as being able to gain advice from the professionals, parents were also able to chat to other parents and gain support in that way. This can only really happen at events like this. Mind you I have to clarify here that I never got to visit any of the stall holders as Tom was like a whirlwind. There was so much for him to see and do.
In one room it was 'Tom heaven'. There were inflatables and bouncy castles on one side of the room while on the other were trampolines, supported by Preston Trampoline Club. Well his eyes lit up when he spotted them and he could not wait to climb on and have a bounce, my heart was in my mouth.
What was really fantastic though was the whole supportive atmosphere. We were in a place where everyone knew what it is like to have a child with additional needs. So I was therefore not worried about Tom's behaviour. However having said that he coped incredibly well and only got a little upset when I told him not to touch the model trains, he kept taking them off the track.
There is no other event like this in North Lancashire and it is truly needed. This is clearly evident in the many comments made by parents who attended. Comments include, "really helpful and informative", "understanding that help is out there" and "not alone".
I was also informed by one of the event's organisers that a mum came up to her and said that her 13 year old son with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) had been excited about attending the event for a few days previously. I was informed that he had ironed his own shirt that Saturday morning to come to the event, something totally out of character.
Another parent said that:
"It was so good to be able to just let them be themselves and know that they wouldn't be stared at or criticised for their behaviour"
This parent has it in a nutshell, we as parents all understand could visibly relax while there.
Lots of families have said that they can't wait for next year's event and one mum in particular said on her way out that she had spent the whole day there, from 11am
These events are incredibly vital to us as parents of children with special needs; they offer us a much needed lifeline.
I would like to thank NLDG and all of the people associated with the day, thank you for making me feel not so alone.
More information about NLDG can be found on their website