Ten-year-old Shaun has epilepsy, autism, ADHD, hyperthyroidism, severe anxiety, mobility issues and is fitted with a gastrostomy feeding device. Although he is doing well at a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) school in Surrey, the interruption to his regular routine means that the holidays can be challenging.

“If Shaun was at home all the time, I would be pulling my hair out,” says single parent Susan. “He continually fights with his older brother, who is also autistic, and by the end of the day I am climbing the walls.”

The family were referred by a social worker to our new West Sussex Short Breaks playscheme last summer and they travel a considerable distance from Billingshurst for Shaun to attend.

I’d love it if it was nearer but there is nothing else closer to home,” says Susan. “Short Break services for children with Shaun’s needs are like gold dust.

Our staff helped Shaun to settle at the playscheme in the early days when he was very anxious.

They were proactive and always came out to distract or engage him in an activity so I could slip away,” says Susan. “Now, he just walks in. He likes the environment and he feels safe and secure. I can relax, knowing that he’s well cared for.

Shaun has become more confident and is developing friendships with other children. He likes playing with cars and Lego, supported by his one-to-one member of staff, and enjoys outings to the swimming pool, park, playing football or climbing. Targeted training means that staff can deal with Shaun’s specific feeding needs.

“My stress levels are lower and I can get on with other things while he is at the playscheme,” says Susan. “Having a small break makes it easier to deal with any challenging behaviour or meltdowns once Shaun is home again.”

This year, YMCA East Surrey delivered 241 sessions of Short Breaks in West Sussex and Reigate & Banstead. We have also recently been awarded a 3-year contract, starting in December 2017, to deliver Play and Leisure Short Breaks for children and young people with SEND in Mole Valley and Epsom & Ewell, as well as a playscheme for Tandridge.

“There are not enough services like this out there to support all the families like mine,” says Susan. “Having the Short Breaks playscheme means everything.”

“It makes me happy to know that Shaun is happy.”

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