Finding something they love to do after school, or in the holidays, can help children with special needs to see that we’re all good at different things and that we all have weaknesses. They can meet kids with similar interests and maybe make some friends. And becoming part of a group or a member of a team can do wonders for their confidence and social skills.
Here’s our round up of the most exciting clubs and activities for children with SEN.
Gymnastics and circus fun
Skylight Circus Arts in Rochdale runs Sky High, an after-school activity for children with any disability or need. As well as teaching structured circus skills, they have an aerial harness to swing young circus trainees through the room.
For those willing to be adventurous in the water, head to the coast, breathe in that wonderful sea air and learn to surf with The Wave Project. The charity runs projects all over the country so you can book short courses or just give it a go for the day. They also run a surf club once you’re hooked. All sessions are run by qualified in-house surf instructors with extensive experience in disability and mental health. The project says ‘surfing reduces anxiety, improves confidence, and makes children feel calmer, and more motivated, positive about the future'.
For more freedom and adventure on the open sea, check out the Royal Yachting Association. Sailibility is the RYA’s national programme enabling people with disabilities to try sailing and take part regularly. Sailing is open to anyone, no matter what age or disability. You don’t need to be able-bodied, or even a strong swimmer and the network of approved Sailibility sites have boats and facilities to cater for everyone.
Disability Snow Sports offers ski and snowboarding lessons, plus they have local groups at dry slopes and indoor snow centres, allowing children with a wide range of disabilities to enjoy themselves in a friendly social group away from the formalities of lessons. Adaptive equipment is provided along with dedicated trained volunteers.
Ask your local ice rink about wheelchair ice-skating (Guildford and Plymouth both do this for example) and any special needs programmes. At the Ice Arena in Slough, Berkshire, they run SPICE (Special People on Ice) lessons on Sundays followed by optional ice hockey training. Their team, the Spice Jets travel overseas to take part in the latest Special Hockey tournaments. The Werewolves of London Special Ice hockey club at London’s Streatham Ice Rink offers a special needs ice hockey programme for children and young adults who have autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome and other learning disabilities.
For those in favour of calmer, more individual physical activities, why not try yoga. The Special Yoga Foundation is a charity providing yoga sessions as a therapeutic intervention for children with special needs. Special Yoga Foundation’s methodology includes the classical yoga practices of movement, breathing, and deep relaxation combined with sound, rhythm, massage and sensory integration techniques. It says, ‘Yoga helps to rebalance and refine the child’s nervous system, which creates the foundation for positive improvement. Benefits can be a calmer child, improved sleeping, reduced stress and anxiety, the ability to control and balance themselves more easily and learning how to relax, and release tension and frustration.’
Outdoor play and bushcraft activities are a good way to improve social skills, motor skills, learn about the natural environment, and have fun in the fresh woodland air. Running Deer in Devon organise respite service days during the school holidays. Sessions include woodland games, fire lighting, den building, green woodworking, camp arts and crafts and animal tracking. Wild Learning runs holiday clubs and Forest Schools across the Home Counties. They can cater for a range of special needs but do call them first to discuss your child’s particular needs.
Gardening has the potential to empower those with autism and other needs, building their confidence to cope with the outside world. Gardens engage the senses without being over stimulating. Children with a range of needs can explore different colours, textures, smells, and sounds in a calming, natural setting. Gardening charity Thrive runs weekly horticultural therapy sessions in Berkshire and London, and it’s worth finding out if your local community projects run inclusive sessions in local parks or allotments.
Pottery is another great way to be creative in a calming environment. Clay is tactile, therapeutic and the results are rewarding. Honeybourne Pottery in Worcestershire has plenty of experience of working with children with a variety of disabilities and special needs. Various options are available including clay modelling, potter's wheel sessions and pottery painting, all taught in their studio.
If your budding artist is more of a Banksy than Da Vinci, get in touch with Graft in Bristol for a graffiti session. This husband and wife team are both qualified and experienced teachers and can cater for some special needs. They offer private bookings for families, parties and one-to-one tuition. Please call first to discuss needs and requirements.
Alphabake Cookery runs regular workshops in Essex and Hertfordshire with charities including Mencap, where children can learn in a relaxed, supervised and safe environment how to cook simple healthy recipes. They also offer sensory workshops for those less able or mobile and private sessions for those that are not so happy in groups.
Design and technology
Children can make robots, learn coding/animation and play Minecraft at ComputerXplorers' weekend, after school, and holiday clubs. Or let them work on their next grand design at a local Lego group. St. Alban’s Lego club for children with autism at Fleetville Community Centre is a good example, popular with kids and parents alike, their mantra is ‘I can do it, I want to do it, I’m going to do it.’
Swimming, football, tennis, and more
The English Federation of Disability Sport has a listing of events taking place throughout the year, searchable by region, including swimming galas for children with physical disabilities, tennis for children with learning disabilities, and football talent days for young disabled people.