Finding something they love to do after school or in the holidays can help children with special needs to explore particular passions and find individual strengths.
Clubs and activities mean kids can meet peers with similar interests and make friends outside school. 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 SEND:
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.
Alphabake Cookery runs regular workshops in Essex and Hertfordshire with charities including Mencap, where children can learn in person or online 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. The Lego Foundation supports lots of online ideas in the Learning Through Play initiative.
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.
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
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.
Ask your local ice rink about wheelchair ice-skating 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, Down’s syndrome and other learning disabilities
Music lessons for SEN children
Children with SEN can take great comfort and enjoyment from music. Music therapy can be a gentle way to unlock some children, using improvisation, performance, dance, and singing in one-to-one and group sessions to help them express themselves and it has been shown to accelerate language learning.
If your child is at a specialist or special school, try asking the music tutor about individual instrument tuition. Alternatively, your local music trust can be a good starting point. Each trust recruits and supplies music teachers to schools in your area, but will often also provide additional services including music therapy and individual and group sessions for children with SEN. If you are more interested in a therapeutic approach, the British Association for Music Therapy has a ‘Find a therapist’ section where you can search by area.
For general advice, the forums section of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) website is a brilliant place for discussions of all matters musical, including learning needs.
You’ll find descriptions of some amazingly quirky individuals whose interests have taken them into musically niche areas. One boy has developed an interest in harmoniums and Mighty Wurlitzer performances. Others are hooked by music theory and composition with its rules, intricacies and harmonies. Music tech is a popular subject at special schools.
For an object lesson in what can be achieved if teacher and pupil are on the same wavelength, a remarkable TEDx talk featuring Derek Paravicini is a must watch. Paravicini is a blind, autistic pianist of phenomenal ability who can recall, play and improvise just about any piece in any key – by ear alone.
While he’s undoubtedly exceptional, it was his inspirational teacher Adam Ockelford who helped him realise his talents, teaching him conventional scale fingering, for example, to take his playing to new heights. Alternatively, look up the accomplishments of Dame Evelyn Glennie, the profoundly deaf percussionist.
Pottery is another great way to be creative in a calming environment. Clay is tactile, therapeutic and the results are rewarding. Eastnor pottery based in Herefordshire runs courses for SEND potters in school. Jon the flying potter has plenty of experience of working with children with a variety of disabilities and special needs.
Riding for the Disabled
Whether it is a passion for horse-riding, carriage driving or simply mucking out stables, Riding for the Disabled has a nationwide network of trained coaches to suit all levels and ages. Sympathetic RDA coaches and volunteers have experience supporting children and young adults with physical, social and neurodiverse needs.
For more freedom and adventure on the open sea, check out the Royal Yachting Association. Sailability 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 Sailability sites have boats and facilities to cater for everyone.
Disability Snow Sport 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.
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'.
Swimming, football, tennis, and more
The Activity Alliance 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.
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 result in 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.’