Negative attitudes hold disabled children back during half term #ThisisMyChild

Children playing

Today is the first day of half-term. For so many parents and children across the country, the half-term holidays are a time of playgroups, and football matches, Brownies, swimming and seeing friends.

But for too many parents of disabled children, school holidays are a time of stress and anguish at not being able to access the activities that so many children take for granted.

“My child feels frustrated when he can’t participate in the same clubs that his friends and sibling attend. It can be quite alienating and makes socialising with peers from school difficult at times.” (Joanne, Bristol)

“It not only affects my disabled child but also my other children who feel guilty for accessing mainstream activities and sometimes restricted from accessing them due to their sisters’ needs.” (Carly, Bristol)

“My daughter has missed out on lots of experiences that other kids take for granted: making new friends, trying out new things, becoming independent, etc.” (Helen, London)

Mumsnet survey

We joined forces with Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest website for parents, to survey parents of disabled children on their experiences trying to access after-school activities such as youth clubs, sports clubs, Brownies and Scouts.

And the results were astounding…

Six in ten parents of disabled children say that local activities are not open to their son or daughter because they are disabled. This means that four in ten parents of disabled children say that their children ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ have the opportunity to socialise and mix with children who are not disabled. This experience of being turned away from clubs has left them and their children feeling isolated and desperate.

“It makes my son feel excluded and very aware of the fact that, although he’s in mainstream school, he’s not ‘like’ the other children, which has really impacted on his self-esteem.” (Sarah, Canterbury)

“We were made to feel like outcasts sometimes due to behaviour issues and his bowel disorder. Staff would always refuse to help him. This was deeply upsetting.” (Tracy, Northfleet)

“Parents even in this day and age seem to think my son is a leper with a contagious disease yet he has cerebral palsy.” (Helen, Surbiton)

“It makes us feel awful, unwanted, isolated and alone. It puts additional pressure on us as parents as we feel we’d like to do more, but are so exhausted at trying to help him fit it.” (Mary, Ely)

Justine Roberts, Co-Founder and CEO of Mumsnet, said:

“One of the motivations for our This is My Child campaign is to show people that social inclusion of children with additional needs is crucial to their quality of life. With a bit of organisation and planning, children with disabilities can happily take part in all kinds of extra-curricular activities.”

The survey also revealed that 7 in 10 parents believe that more positive attitudes and better understanding of disability amongst staff and organisers would enable their child to be included. For them, this was far more of an issue in enabling their child to access after-school activities than inaccessible venues, for example. It is the people, not the buildings, that need to change.

What can we do?

Scope and Mumsnet are calling on local councils to do more to make local leisure activities, groups and play centres inclusive to disabled children. We believe that the Government needs to set the tone for a culture change in how local groups and centres are planning and run, so that they are accessible and inclusive for all local children and their families.

In the meantime, this half-term, we are also asking parents of disabled children to share their thoughts and tips on how to deal with the negative attitudes of staff at local activity centres.

Have you every experienced negative attitudes from staff at an extra-curricular activity in your area?

How have you challenged these attitudes to encourage them to include your child?

If you’ve been able to overcome these attitudes, we’d love to hear from you and will compile your suggestions into a short guide to help other parents during the holidays.

10 thoughts on “Negative attitudes hold disabled children back during half term #ThisisMyChild”

  1. Good luck with the campaign to change attitudes. (Relatively) small scale stuff here, and we have found lots of positive attitudes, but have also faced exclusion….and bloody-mindedness, for example, tennis club that wouldn’t take him on with some of his classmates because of the ezymes he has to take with his packed lunch, despite school coping fine and him virtually self-medicating!

  2. We have twin Autistic boys, with SLD, ADHD and OCD, we used to take them to wheelgate adventureland in Notts, they loved to go on the indoor softplay area, but wouldn’t keep socks on due to severe sensory issues, after complaints from staff I ask to speak to a manager, and he agreed they could stay on as long as they didn’t go on to the slides, they couldn’t go on anyway for various reasons, so this wasn’t a problem, so we enjoyed the rest of our day. Some weeks later we returned, when we got to the indoor soft play, a new sign had been put up which read ” Socks must be worn at all times with absolutely no exceptions what so ever”, after trying to get our boys to keep their socks on and being headbutted, bitten and kicked in the process, we decided to leave, we all felt absolutely miserable, and our nice day we’d planned was ruined. We have never returned to wheelgate due to this and felt victimised by them, the sign only appeared after the first time we were there, and we thought the problem was solved and we could enjoy our time there, how wrong we were. I’ll never forgive them for that!

  3. I have many years of experience looking after children with SEN, at children’s centres, nurseries, schools, play groups and home support. Taking children out for educational, recreational & social activities. I am available during the day & some evenings, occasional Sundays and school holidays.

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  4. My son is 21 months old and has no words yet so he gets frustrated because he can not communicate. We have tried a few playgroups but the only playgroup we can go to without repercussions is the Ace Place ( a special needs social group) which I attend due to his elder brother having asd. He should be able to socialise with children his own age but the looks you get from some parents some group leaders when he hits out or throws a tantrum makes us uncomfortable. Why can people not just ask questions or talk to me about it? I went through a similar thing with my eldest as he has Asberges he had and still has very few social skills. I even had parents turn their backs on my with their chairs and shun me! Some even moved their children away from him as though it was a contagious disease.
    I would like to think that in a society where we welcome different races,backgrounds and sexual orientation that we would accept children who are a little different to others. Obviously we are not there yet but I do hope that eventually we will get there for the sake not only for my children but for all who are a little bit different 🙂

  5. As a father of a child with disabilities i have found beavers and then cubs to be inclusive and very positive but after school and holiday clubs have been terrible. One holiday club told us they had put it to the committee and were pleased to tell us that they would be able to accept our son as long as we provided and paid for one to one support at all times!

  6. As my son gets older, I find it’s more and more difficult to access clubs and activities. Lewis is 13 and has Cerebral Palsy and learning difficulties. The gap seems so much wider now than when he was little. As he is a wheelchair user, toileting is a huge issue (most accessible toilets don’t have hoists to lift him onto the toilet) and because of this, we had to leave our local scouts group (they didn’t have an accessible toilet at all!) We have found that most people have tried to help to a point, but we are still very much a square peg in a round hole. Most activities that are accessible now are not mainstream, more specialised activities put on by local charities. We do have support workers now to take my son out, but again you have to plan everything to make sure the day goes smoothly – hardly spontaneous!

  7. We have had an issue with childcare – the local mainstream nursery my child went to refused to have him without a 1:1 but everyone involved (early years etc) felt that he didn’t need it as he was chronologically older than the other kids and the place was set up for two year olds to be safe/ looked after. The owner told me that I was ‘lucky in this day and age that children with DS are accepted into school etc.’ and that ‘years ago they stayed at home.’ In other words I should be grateful that she would even have him at nursery even though I had to pay for his time plus his 1:1. It’s so difficult t get childcare for him. He is 5 and half now and as this same nursery run the after school clubs I know they won’t even consider taking him without a 1:1 and we can’t afford to employ anyone to do it.
    Another example of our kids being excluded was at a ballet class where my friends took their daughters, both of which have DS. The woman was clearly not happy that our kids don’t tow the line in the way that typical ballerina’s do and said words to the effect of ‘ well I have no choice. I have to have them.’ It’s so ridiculous. These little girls are there for fun. At 4/5 year old who cares if they are not royal ballet material. Makes me so cross.
    On the up side, my son is getting invited to lots of parties etc at m/s school 🙂

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