Top five SEN-friendly initiatives in and around London
Taking any child out for the day can be a minefield, but when your little one has Special Educational Needs this can become even more challenging.
Thankfully, awareness is growing and companies from supermarkets to zoos have introduced initiatives aimed at making days out more comfortable for children with SEN.
While this is good for us it also makes commercial sense. After all, there are thought to be more than 1.2 million children with some kind of Special Educational Need in England, according to the Department for Education.
With this in mind the team at Sennies has compiled a list of the best places in London which offer discounts and /or SEN friendly initiatives to make the day more accessible and enjoyable for both you and your child.
Of course, depending on which SEN your child has this may not be appropriate, but a day out with the family at a theme park can be a wildly exciting, but also stressful, experience.
To make this easier the majority of theme parks and attractions now offer a free carers ticket, including Chessington World of Adventures.
“‘Disabled’ guests at Chessington can obtain one free carer's ticket upon arrival when providing proof of disability,” the website states. However, as proof is required this can’t be booked online.
Details on what you need to bring along in order to be entitled can be found here. A day ticket costs £29.50 when booked in advance.
Other brands under the Merlin umbrella have also rolled out a free ‘ride access pass’, and you only have to register once to be entitled to it.
This is designed to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to assist guests who do not understand the concept of queuing or have a physical disability that prevents them standing for extended periods of time.
In essence, a Ride Access Pass allows guests to ‘virtually queue’ for the queue time of a ride of their choice, outside of the standard queue line, with the use of a smartphone.
Once registered with either Alton Towers Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures or Legoland Windsor, you will be given a Merlin Yellow Ride Access Pass card on your first visit. This card will be valid for all visits over the following 24 months, which will have your name, photo and carer requirements on it and will be valid at all 4 parks.
Sometimes, particularly during the school holidays, you’ll need to run errands while you’re looking after the children.
This can be difficult though - The National Autistic Society, for example, says frustration or anxiety can be caused by not knowing why we need to shop or what will happen when shopping, and a person can be overwhelmed by sensory experiences at the shops too.
However, there are times for children when this can be an exciting and fun experience. For example, finding items on a written list or visual shopping list, making shopping part of your family routine to make it a familiar experience and the use of social stories. (Please send us an email if you would like guidance on social stories).
To make it more manageable for some people with an SEN, Morrisons launched a ‘quiet hour’ in 2018, saying that all of its 439 UK stores will dim lights, turn music off, avoid using the tannoy and turn check-out beeps down on Saturdays from 09:00 to 10:00.
This is a growing phenomenon among businesses - more than 1500 shops in the capital took part in a ‘quiet hour’ in October for ‘Autism hour’.
ASDA also has an ‘inclusive hour’ where displays, tannoy announcements and other noises are switched off between 09:00 and 10:00 every Tuesday at 63 of it’s stores across the country, including in North and West London. You can see a full list of participating stores here: https://corporate.asda.com/article/inclusive-hour-store-list
Debenhams, Tesco and Property firm Landsec also have similar schemes, so with enough research to your local store, you can make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
Bowling has been a reliable family day out for decades, and the majority of bowling companies now offer concessions to children with diagnosed Special Educational Needs and their carer.
Hollywood Bowl - which has several facilities in London - say all of it's centres have disabled access, moveable ramps to access lanes, ramps to aid bowling and disabled toilet facilities.
They also offer a concessionary rate of around 50% to those with disabilities and their carers.
This rate is available every weekday before 6pm, excluding February, October and December school holidays.
A family (4 people) game of bowling costs £21.39 and upgrades to a quieter ‘VIP’ section are available for as little as £1 per person. Further details can be found here.
While Rowans in North London doesn’t offer concessions it- along with many others- will discuss special requirements for your visit if you call up prior to booking.
This costs up to £7 per person at peak times, and £5.20 a quieter times.
While bowling can be a good family treat, many of the more ‘trendy’ places have a lot more noise than traditional bowling alleys, so may not be appropriate. We advise calling ahead and booking a time that is typically quiet, for example we recommend after school Monday- Thursday as weekends and evening are typically peak time.
The zoo is a great family day out, and the London Zoo even runs a ‘Special Children's Day’ once a year.
While the date hasn’t been announced yet for 2020 - in 2019 the zoo introduced increased specialist facilities and staff presence, as well as interactive events and discounted entry for children with an SEN or disability.
The zoo itself says while it is unable “to create bespoke sessions for SEND groups or schools”, it does have a number of existing sessions and activities that are suitable for students with “a wide variety of needs”.
It does recommend the Hands on and Animal story time . They have also developed a Visual/Social Story to support students on the Autistic Spectrum, to help prepare them for their Zoo visit by introducing them to some of the animals they might meet prior to their visit.
Entry fees vary depending on the time of year, ranging from between £15 - £21 for children and £23 - £31.50 for adults. More information can be found here.
The outdoor adventure runs tree top ropes courses at locations across the UK, which of course wouldn’t be suitable for some additional needs.
However, if you think your child would be interested - the company offers a 10% carers discount, and say that additional equipment/or levels of supervision is available for safe participation.
Every now and then they also run a discounted SEN morning session. Enquire to your local branch for further details as this is usually advertised via email.
As with many activities in London, the company say it is able to make amendments to standard operating procedures with enough notice.
There are some things to consider though - If a participant is unable to remain attentive for the training and then apply what they have learned on the session, then the activity may not be suitable for them.
Tickets cost around £28 for children and £38 for those over 16.