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Best days out in Kent for children on the Autism spectrum for World Autism Awareness Week

By Angela Cole

Family days out can often be fraught, but if your child is autistic the challenges can be even greater.

Campaigns such as World Autism Awareness Week, which runs until tomorrow, go a long way to helping the public gain an insight into the differences associated with autism.

Around 700,000 people are autistic, which affects how they communicate and experience and interact with the world around them. In addition, many autistic people have sensory processing issues which might mean things such as loud noises, too many people in close proximity or bright light can be incredibly overwhelming – making days out challenging.

Here, Natasha Harding from Kent, whose five-year-old daughter Lexi is autistic, has chosen some of the best family friendly days out for children on the spectrum:

1. Chiddingstone Castle

Chiddingstone Castle, near Tonbridge, is a historic house set in 35 acres of beautiful grounds that are perfect for exploring no matter what your age. As well as an award-winning ancient Egyptian-inspired maze, there are gorgeous woodland walks. Kids will benefit from the outdoor space and being able to explore freely. The castle is also working towards the Museum Access Pledge which welcomes potential visitors with disabilities.

Price: from £4.50 and one carer goes free. Visit chiddingstonecastle.org.uk

2. Cinema

The thought of taking Lexi to a cinema is terrifying - but Odeon, Cineworld, Vue and Showcase host autism friendly screenings.

Adaptations include; the lights being left on low, the sound is turned down and there aren’t any trailers or advertisements. Most importantly, there is freedom to move about and you can bring your own refreshments.

The staff are trained in autism awareness so you know that your child isn’t going to be judged or bombarded with questions. Sarah Clarke, Campaigns Manager from Dimensions said: “Autism friendly environments help people feel welcome and – in turn – helps make society more inclusive."

Price: Ticket prices vary depending on the venue, however, many cinemas offer free entry for carers if they have a valid CEA card. Visit dimensions-uk.org to learn more.

3. Clip n Climb

Climbing is incredible for co-ordination, fine and gross motor skills and also problem solving. The biggest benefit though has to be the confidence boost that kids get when they master a particularly challenging ascent.

Every Thursday at 5.30 pm at Clip n Climb in Tonbridge there is an autism and SEN session. The music is turned off and the lights are down low. The experienced staff are on hand to encourage the children and understand if there’s some tricky behaviour. Demand is high for the sessions, so make sure you book in advance.

Price: £10 per climber and siblings are welcome. More at clipnclimbtonbridge.co.uk

4. Diggerland

The Medway attraction is part of Connect to Autism, a national campaign designed to improve access to facilities and services for people with autism.

Diggerland recommends that you make contact two to three working days before your visit so that the manager can make the necessary provisions - such as meeting you on arrival. We arrived early on a Saturday and the longest we waited for a ride was just five minutes. As well as rides that will spin and lift you, there is a fabulous indoor soft play and diggers that the child needs to navigate themselves - great for concentration and hand-eye coordination.

Price: £23.95 per person - one carer goes free, as long as you’ve contacted the venue online beforehand. Visit diggerland.com

5. Gravity Trampoline Park

Kids on the autistic spectrum might benefit from jumping as it improves coordination, balance and releases feel-good hormones. However, most trampoline parks are super bright, packed and overwhelming so the SEND sessions are a lifesaver.

Each branch of Gravity has an allocated weekly time where the lights are turned low and the music is off meaning that children who are easily overwhelmed or anxious can jump to their heart’s content. In addition, carers are able to jump for free. There are Gravity parks at Bluewater and Maidstone, contact your local branch for session details.

Price: £5 and carers jump free. Learn more at gravity-uk.com

6. Legoland

A lot of autistic children love theme parks as their sensory needs are met. However, there is a danger that they can become overwhelmed and have a meltdown - which might look like a tantrum. One of the country's biggest tourist attractions, Legoland, near Windsor, is going a long way in helping with that.

As well as having a daily ‘quiet hour’ in the Lego Star Wars Miniland model display from 2pm, the park has a newly opened Total Sensory Room which provides a quiet, calming environment. Legoland acknowledges that queueing can be an issue for people with autism and offers a Ride Access Park. This policy is designed to make reasonable adjustments to assist guests who do not understand the concept of queuing.

Price: £29 if booked online, more than seven days in advance. Information available from legoland.co.uk

Learning more about Autism...

Tickets for this year's Autism Show, the national event for autism, are now on sale. The event will be returning to three venues - London, Birmingham and Manchester - this summer, with over 100 hours of talks, clinics and workshops, plus hundreds of specialist products and services. The London event takes place at at ExCel at Royal Victoria Dock on Friday, June 14 and Saturday, June 15.

Once inside the show, all theatre sessions, one to one clinics and feature areas are free to enter and all content is CPD certified for professionals. Book at autism.org.uk

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