It's half term week and we decided to take the boys away to Legoland for 2 days. We managed to keep it a secret which was no easy task - not because they were working us out and finding little things around the place, not even when my sister blurted it out over the dinner table, bt because we were excited too and frankly desperate to tell them!
On Monday evening we told them we were going away and would be spending a night in a hotel.
They love hotels - the adventure of sleeping in one room, living together in a small space, sleeping in such close proximity to one another, it is the most exciting thing in the world. So, they were happy. Not once did they ask about why we were going away!
En route to Windsor, we still managed to keep it secret up until we were 5 minutes away. We turned around and told them and they were ecstatic! It really is worth the wait if you can keep it a secret, to see their faces was fantastic.
So, we went into Legoland and faced what to any unprepared parent of an autistic child would be hell on earth. In order to get into the place, through the gates into 'The Beginning' where the shops are, took 2 separate queues. The first to turn our piece of paper confirming our booking into a ticket, and a second to scan our ticket through the gate. We were blessed as our two boys waited patiently, however we knew that once through the gate, the queues would continue.
Now, not one to miss an opportunity to double your ticket price, Legoland offers a system called Q-Bot. Q-Bot works by allowing you to arrive at a ride, start Q-Bot and then return when it is your time to go on the ride. Q-Bot queues for you effectively.
This is the theme park class system, where the upper 'Q-Bot' class get to spend their £15 per person and jump the queues, whilst the lower proletariat wallow in queues for hours on end dealing with impatient youngsters.
An autistic child can struggle in this environment, where the queue presents so many questions and prompts so many regulations as to how to behave. We were fortunate in that L behaved impeccably most of the time, and besides, he wasn't too bothered about the rides and preferred admiring the lego models and looking forward to the evening in the hotel!
It did get me thinking though - would Legoland consider having a special day for Special Needs Children? On this day, everyone gets a Q-Bot, there is lots of space and patience all around, people are there to answer your questions and those of your children and most of all, eveyr other parent in the place has experienced a similar set of 'non-typical' behaviours to you, and therfore you are not some social pariah as soon as your youngster lays down a fat tantrum in the middle of the walkway between the shops and the toilets.
There is an excellent local play centre near us, Jungle Boogie in Codsall, and they are going to be trialling a special needs evening where those parents of children with special needs can come and get some peace - or perhaps not so much peace, but at least a sympathetic ear or knowing exchange when those sweet adorable volcanoes erupt. I realise that this is still a rather open invitation - that parents of children with aspergers may share very little in common with a deaf child, but at least it is a start, a gesture which I think marks a welcome opportunity and I hope that all local readers in the area give them a go.
Anyway, it got me thinking more, why isn't there a special place to go - not just an education centre, or a garden park, but an entire theme park, dedicated to children with special needs? With special sensory areas - not a room but an entire walkway the size of a roller-coaster. Pitch black play rooms, monitored by infra-red cameras of course, but where the seeing are disabled, and those without sight are advantaged. Where there are no queues, where people can book slots on the rides, and also explore how they work, get tours of the roller-coaster underside for those high-functioning autistic children obsessed with how things work, where the roller-coaster can go at different speeds depending upon the disposition of those riding. How about a theme park where the needs of the child who isn't into the thrill or the adrenaline, but who is bored by Peppa Pig Land, or Thomas Land, or simply too old?
Special Needs World (I'm still working on the name) or L****Land as my son already calls it.
Does anyone have a large plot of land in the Midlands and investors willing to invest c. £50M on it's development?
Let me know.