Imagine if a valuable lifeline had been taken away from your family, leaving your child isolated, anxious and confused.
This is exactly what has happened to Lesley Wilson and her sons Connor (eight) and five-year-old Kyle when lockdown meant they could no longer go to The Yard, an adventure play service for disabled children, young people and their families.
Lesley and the boys are regular visitors to The Yard in Kirkcaldy. But, since lockdown, it has remained closed to members in general in line with Government regulations, with plans to re-open when it is safe to do so.
Connor has Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and is currently being assessed for possible Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Prior to discovering The Yard, life was extremely difficult for Lesley and her family. “Connor just couldn’t socialise – we were really struggling with his behaviour and simply couldn’t go anywhere,” Lesley recalls.
“We tried parks, soft play centres and so on but Connor just couldn’t cope with it. The looks and judgemental comments were just awful.
“Even simple things like going to the shops became impossible,” she continues.
“He couldn’t make any friends and it was also really hard for Kyle who started to accept that we couldn’t do things ‘because Connor can’t’.
It was also really hard for me – I had support but not from anyone who had been in my shoes, so no-one really understood how I felt.”
Feeling things had hit rock bottom, Lesley approached staff at her sons’ primary school who suggested The Yard.
“I liked the fact that The Yard works with the full range of disability and support needs – it’s so diverse and accepting,” says Lesley.
“The fact that it’s family-centred was also a huge appeal for us as the boys can both play and be included.
“I want them to grow up in a world which is accepting of all people, not judgemental, and I think The Yard has really helped them both with that. In fact, Kyle loves going just as much as Connor.
“It’s also been life-changing for me – I can talk openly with other parents who really understand which is so valuable, especially if you’re having a bad day and need to offload.
We also swap bits of advice and help put things into perspective.”
The family visits The Yard Fife most Saturdays and, during school holidays, drive to The Yard in Edinburgh.
“We absolutely love our time at The Yard,” she smiles. “There’s a different theme each weekend with a range of activities, but also lots of scope for free play.
“Connor doesn’t generally like getting messy but he’s different at The Yard because he’s comfortable there – he now loves making slime, playing with mud and water, things he would never do outside The Yard.
“He’s made a few friends and loves the staff who are worth their weight in gold – they’re all so understanding of the different children and their needs. They can gage his mood as soon as we walk in and predict how he’ll react, tailoring activities to suit.
“We just love it and can’t now imagine life without it.”
However, due to lockdown, the family, like countless others, have had to adapt.
“It’s been really hard since The Yard shut and both boys have been really unsettled,” Lesley reveals. Connor was very anxious at the start of lockdown, obsessed with the news and handwashing – he has definitely regressed.
“The boys always looked forward to going to The Yard but now we don’t have that and the routine has gone, which Connor has really struggled with.
“I decided to get in touch with Helen from The Yard, who knows him best and she’s been amazing, giving us lots of support, ideas and activities to help create a bit of routine which is the thing Connor desperately needs.
“Even introducing a weekly menu for the house has helped with Connor’s need for structure and planning and we’ve had lots of fun baking, making playdough and trying out some new sensory activities.
“She’s even given Connor jobs to do in preparation for The Yard reopening, trying to get his thinking cap on with ideas for new themed weekends. Giving him lists and activities helps keep his mind active and helps remind him that this is temporary, that life at The Yard will return!
“On a personal level, I’ve also been keeping in touch with one other Yard mum, sharing messages and supporting each other. Our children have different needs but it’s been good having someone to talk to who understands.”
Another family also missing The Yard, Pauline Rice and Claire Hermon live in Dundee with their four-year-old triplets, Ollie, Olivia and Bella, who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) last year.
When Pauline and Claire realised that because of Bella’s health conditions, they wold have to shield for 12 weeks, reality kicked in.
“We were emotional and scared, scared for Bella, scared that one of us got unwell,” recalls Claire.
However, we soon dusted ourselves down and began our new life. Pauline spread her work over the full week, so that we could be a tag team entertaining the kids and keeping the house running as best we could.
“Lockdown has shown us that you can be very resourceful when you need to. We had watched what the children were drawn to at The Yard during our weekend visits,” she continues.
“We had bought a trough table that could be used for sand or water play, and made it come to life thanks to The Yard and their attitude of ‘let the children create the play they want to see and do’.
“We built climbing frames from pallets, made indoor stair slides, built a multitude of camps, painted fences (and each other), turned our drive into their new playpark even had an outside (paddling) pool. we created different play areas outside, thought about how the nursery and the Yard used play stations to give the children choice, and fresh air – it worked, the children were having so much fun.”
When Pauline and Claire first arrived at the Yard with Bella and her siblings, Bella was still very socially introverted.
“Slowly but surely Bella has become more confident coming to The Yard,” says Claire. “She now feels safe and secure and trusts the staff who were so gentle and subtle getting to know her, going at her pace.
“No two days were the same, and for us to be able to emulate The Yard in our own home was a life saver for us.”
Although closed at this time, The Yard Fife runs drop-in family play sessions every Saturday and Sunday from 10.30am to 4pm. Any family with a disabled child can visit free for their first taster session without booking.
For more information, please contact The Yard on (0131) 476 4506 or visit https://www.theyardscotland.org.uk/