Blog #11: Camping at Parkdean resort, Sandford.

Yesterday we returned from a very short camping trip to a Parkdean holiday park close to where we live. We have visited once before so JJ was happy to go and knew what to expect. He was so excited to be able to take Peanut, and he loves being in a tent. The only thing that has changed in the two years since we last went are some new bookable activities.

It’s become more long the lines of Butlin’s or Centerparcs now, with added activities you book and pay for in advance. This is where the issues begin really. We received an email before we went with a list of what was available. I showed JJ and there were things he liked the sound of. But…he doesn’t want to commit two weeks before! It’s not realistic for someone with demand avoidance to be able to do this. H

He doesn’t know how he will feel on that day. His tolerance could be high or low.

He doesn’t know exactly how long the session will be or what it will entail, or what sensory challenges it might pose.

The fun activities then become demands. JJ avoided discussing the activities directly with me so I booked a few things, trying to use my common sense and not get too carried away. This is how it went:

Day 1

Aqua-jets – These are hand-held ‘hairdryers’ which propel you through the water in the swimming pool. He’s a real water baby, but didn’t want to do it as we had just arrived and felt he needed time to adjust to his surroundings. I get it, my fault here. Timing wasn’t good. Sadly there was no space for the rest of the week so he missed out on that one.

Bumper Zorbs – Blow up cylinders which the children climb in to and bump about. JJ loves rough play, pressure and physical movement, so this looked like a winner. However, it was a very structured session where the kids were asked to complete mini-competitions such as who can roll the farthest etc. JJ can’t bear competing as he does not know how to handle his feelings if he doesn’t win. There was no free play, and strict rules about how NOT to bump in to someone. Total disaster. He managed a few mins and then asked to get out in sheer frustration. Such a shame this one, as it could have been brilliant. Why do people feel the need to tie our kids up in rules all the time?

Nerf battle – JJ is a Nerf Nut, but didn’t feel he could participate as I’d booked it on the afternoon we arrived. Again, bad timing as this one would have been perfect. he’s unable to do laser quest, which is the activity usually offered at these places, due to the vibrations and sounds of the guns. Once again, there were no more slots available so he wasn’t able to experience this.

Swimming was booked up for the duration of our stay, and it hadn’t been available to book in advance for some reason. But I was reliably informed they have a standby queue and don’t turn anyone away. As I was able to guarantee we would get in to the pool, and I queued without him for ten minutes, this worked well. He really enjoyed this blessedly unstructured activity which was perfect for the first afternoon.

Day 2

Bungee Trampoline – JJ has tried this before and loved it. However this time, he found the straps too painful and stopped after a few seconds. I wonder if this is due to increased sensory sensitivities or because of his weight gain? Fortunately he didn’t get too upset afterwards. ‘Failing’ at something is a huge trigger for JJ.

Family Karts – This was a large go-kart, pretty stiff and heavy to peddle, but it was fun nonetheless. Would have been even more fun if it wasn’t lashing it down with rain at the time! But it was something we did as a family which was brief but lovely.

Make a bear – JJ has a soft-spot for teddies and was excited about this activity. But when we arrived, the room was incredibly warm and brightly lit, which isn’t a great sensory environment for some autistic people. Again, the activity involved following strict instructions and he was asked to sit down for the duration. JJ quickly became overwhelmed and frustrated. I don’t think it was how he imagined it, and with the overstimulation of the environment and the strict rules, ‘flight’ kicked in and he was off. An understanding staff member made his bear for him and I collected it later. But this episode really disregulated JJ and it took a while for him to regain his balance.

JJ also loved the arcades, obviously! We factored in some spending money for this so he was able to relax and do as he pleased with few restrictions. Overall it’s a lovely holiday park but I wish that there was a way that the activities could be made more accessible for neurodivergent children.

There is no refund for activities cancelled less than 48 hours before the activity begins, so we lost around £25 on cancellations. And the activities he started and felt unable to complete cost around £29. I understand that all children, neurotypical too, will have issues with some activities such as changing their minds, not liking them etc. But with neurodivergent kids we’re talking about a variety of genuine issues which they themselves and their parents have to bear in mind when booking and trying these activities. Timing, duration, materials involved, rules, other children, noise levels, lighting etc.

What I’m getting at here is that reasonable adjustments need to be made. An activity is not fully accessible to an autistic child if they are expected to be able to know in advance if they will be able to complete it or not. This isn’t about changing their mind, this is about genuine inability to commit to and complete an activity in certain circumstances.

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