Stares, tuts and disapproving comments when she is out with son Connor, 9, mean Lesley Wilson has had to grow a thick skin.
Connor is autistic and has developmental conditions.
A trip to the shops, the park, a restaurant – outings most families take for granted – can result in a ‘meltdown’ so are a rare occurrence for the Wilsons, from Kirkcaldy.
When he reacts to sensory overload in public the responses of other people can add to the pressure but it’s something Lesley has learned to deal with.
She said: “I’ve grown a thick skin which I don’t feel I should have had to do.
“Connor will scream and shout and lash out or throw things, and members of the public have quite a habit of standing staring.
“You get a lot of staring, a lot of comments, mutters under breaths, ‘can she not control that child?'”
That’s why she regularly visits The Yard, a charity which provides play sessions for families with disabled children.
What is The Yard?
After restricting its services due to the pandemic, The Yard is now offering taster sessions to welcome more families to its centres in Kirkcaldy and Dundee.
Connor has only been diagnosed in the last few weeks, something Lesley has fought for for several years. But he and brother Kyle, 6, have been going to The Yard for some time.
Children can play in the mud kitchen, have a kick-about in the garden, build dens or tumble in the soft play area while parents have a coffee and chat with people who understand the challenges they face.
Lesley said: “A space like The Yard to come to means Connor has got a safe, non-judgemental place to play and explore.
“If he has a meltdown here nobody looks, you get offered support.
“Having the staff and parents to talk to is wonderful, because we learn from each other.
“Sometimes you do just need to vent about how it’s been this week and they always listen, they always offer support where they think it’s appropriate.”
If Chantel and Mathew Fox, of Dunfermline, want to take their children Oliver, 11, and Lee, 6, to the play park they go early in the morning or late at night when no one else is there.
Oliver has a rare genetic disorder called Wiedemann-Steiner syndrome as well as autism and ADHD and Lee is under investigation for autism and ADHD.
Home life is “exhausting”, says Chantel, with one deviation from their strict routine likely to disrupt the whole day.
People think ‘Why is that child six and still got a dummy? Why is that child making that horrific noise?’ You become numb to it.
Mum Chantel Fox
On rare family outings or shopping trips Chantel, like Lesley, has learned to cope with other people’s reactions.
She said: “I remember very early on with Oliver there were always tuts, people staring, people thinking that ‘why is that child six and still got a dummy? Why is that child making that horrific noise?
“You become numb to it. I’m going through it now with Lee and I honestly don’t pay attention to anybody. If I did I wouldn’t leave the house.”
The Fox family, from Dunfermline, rely on The Yard.
Chantel said: “It is somewhere the boys can just be the boys, where we can be amongst people who are going through the same challenges, difficulties, understand what a bad day is.”
Waiting to find out that your child has ADHD or autism can be one of the most scary waiting games ever.”
Crucially, The Yard’s services can be accessed before the child has been diagnosed – a stage Chantel described as a “one of the loneliest processes anyone will ever go through”.
Encouraging parents in that place to get in touch with the charity, she said: “Actually waiting to find out that your child has ADHD or autism can be one of the most scary waiting games ever.”
The Yard play team leader Helen Bonnar said its centres in Kirkcaldy and Dundee are non-judgemental spaces for the whole family.
She said: “A lot of children can sometimes feel isolated, especially during Covid and through the lockdown.
“When they come here it’s a safe space, there’s lots of things to do and the families notice the children become a lot more social with each other.
“A lot of families can be on their own through the whole week and this is the place they get to meet other families, get to chill out, sit down and talk to other parents.”
Each year The Yard supports over 2,000 families with disabled children and young people, including through its weekly play sessions in Rainbow House, Dundee, and the Argos Centre, Kirkcaldy.
It has a flagship centre in Edinburgh, which was refurbished by BBC’s DIY SOS The Big Build for Children in Need in 2012.
To book sessions and tasters call the charity on 0131 476 4506 or get more information on its website, where there are also ideas for play at home.