31/12/2013 06:53 GMT | Updated 01/03/2014 05:59 GMT

Soft Play Session for Children with Special Needs

The benefits of parent carer peer support - We recently attended a private play session at a local soft play centre; this was for children with additional and special needs, their siblings and parents. My youngest son Tom, aged 5 has Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

I have been to these organised sessions several times previously and I dearly love them. In the past when I have taken the boys to 'normal' soft play, although we have had a happy time I am forever on tenterhooks, wondering how Tom will react to other children there, if he will try to hit out at a child who has ran past him or got I his way, and then more worryingly how other parents there will react to him. I have learnt that not all parents are sympathetic or understanding of children who are autistic or who are perceived as being different.

However at these play sessions all of us parents are in the same boat so to speak. We all care for a child who has special needs and there is a kind of silent understanding between us. No words are needed; we can simply look at another parent whose child is having an autistic meltdown and in that look conveys acceptance and the knowledge that no one is being judged. Our children are able to play freely without us having to worry about what other parents think about our parenting skills or rather I should say the perceived 'lack of' parenting skills.

My boys had so much fun, playing in the ball pool and running about. I was a bit stunned though as Tom no longer needed me, in the past he has dragged me around by the hand, not letting me leave his side, whereas on this occasion he ran off without a backwards glance. This made me hugely happy, this independence that he has suddenly gained; I was witness to a happy, confident little boy. Stephen my little 7 year old as usual though made me smile, as Tom ran off, he quickly pursued him shouting over his shoulder, 'don't worry mum, I'll look after him'.

I did however sneak back into the play area, after a quick cup of coffee, to search for them, all so that I could have a go on the slide. Tom sat on one slide, with myself on another so that we could have a race at his insistence. Not surprising he won.

It was also lovely to catch up with my friends there, most of whom I chat to on Facebook, as well as meeting parents who are new to the world of special needs parenting. All of us living very differing lives, each with our own unique daily challenges but while there enjoying and celebrating life with our children, just as every parent does.

I am very much looking forward to our next meet up.

Support, acknowledgment and acceptance from other parents who just 'get it' are so important. Thank goodness for all my special parent friends, I really do feel that I am not alone.