By Sasha McDowell - SWAN UK member and parent rep for Dorset
On 9 April 2016 SWAN UK families were out in force at Paultons Park in Hampshire. This is the third time we have had our regional meet up at this venue. 140 members (including some intruders from as far as Yorkshire) made the journey to meet other SWAN UK families. There were 40 children with various disabilities along with their families and carers. Armed with brightly coloured balloons Peppa Pig world didn’t know what had hit it! The weather may not have been perfect but the joy, as people went on the rides, was evident.
By lunchtime we were all in need of warming up with a cuppa so many squeezed into our allocated room, some prepared with exotic picnics, others with squashed sandwiches and hastily packed goodies. Initially, most sat in family groups but after a few icebreakers, mostly made by kids, the chatter started. I love a good natter and it was great to meet so my families – some children with more severe conditions than others, but all with their own battles with services and their own thoughts.
We planned a photo opportunity to tie in with an arrangement made with the park and had nagged everyone to be on time. Unfortunately, we weren’t in the right place to meet Mummy and Daddy pig but it turned out there were so many of us that we would have had no room for them! Those who wanted to see them tracked them down anyway.
We also turned this into an opportunity to remember the SWAN angels with thousands of bubbles heading up to heaven.
In the afternoon, the majority of us headed for the bigger rides of Paultons Park. Several of the siblings had bonded and along with a few of the braver parents rode The Edge, The cobra and Magma. The less brave watched on using the excuse of holding bags and watching children.
We saved the log flumes until last. It had started to rain so we were all going to get wet anyway. Volunteers, parents, siblings and swans swapped and changed configurations in the log (the sensible ones avoiding being at the front) and I am sure we took over the ride for a good half an hour. The pictures say it all and well let’s just say some are less than flattering.
It may sound like a very standard day at a theme park but with a child with complex needs, days out can be few and far between. Having this opportunity to have an arranged day out with support from families and volunteers means so much. It provides an opportunity to network with families in a similar situation and form friendships.
To give an example of the magic of these days, my 5-year-old little boy, Eiden, who cannot walk or talk and is developmentally around 18 months old sat and played with another child. They played together for almost 20 minutes, shared a toy and then a book. This is a major breakthrough and all present watched in awe. Eiden attends a special needs school where interactions within the classroom are generally limited to adults. On this day he made a friend. We have already planned to meet again.
Siblings met for the first time and have now decided to keep in contact and again discussions about more days out are in progress.
Parents sat and chatted and could feel comfortable knowing that no one would stare because of their child needing tube feeding or having unusual mannerisms or behaviours or shouting.
The day was full of laughs and screams (of the good variety) and I can’t wait to do it again.
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