We are working to open a dedicated space for children and young adults with autism, associated disorders and learning difficulties. I understand the challenges that families face when taking a child or young person with autism out and about and even more difficult when you have other children to look after too.
I am a mum of 4 children and my second child has severe autism and learning difficulties, he is now 20 years old. He is non-verbal and requires 1:1 care at all times and 2:1 when out. He received his diagnosis when he was 3 and the road has been full of ups and downs since. I can remember the day and how I felt like it was yesterday....I was a bit like a rabbit in headlights.
For me the journey ahead was very unknown and I researched and researched what would be the best thing to do. After many appointments, upsets, advice, professionals, tears and moments of joy later we have found ourselves here. I set up OJ's 11+ years ago and it was purely to bring families together who were finding things as difficult as I was. It felt only right for us all to be able to get together during the holiday times and have some fun just like everyone else can.
The difficulty with this one aim was that many mainstream settings and activities are just not set up to meet the needs of children and young people with autism and learning difficulties. The public perception of autism can be very wrong at times and the behaviour of our children is very misunderstood....our children are not naughty!!!
Some people think our children 'need a good telling off', if only they knew the reality of autism. In my case how do I give my child 'a good telling off' when he is non-verbal, struggles to understand the world around him and has learning difficulties aswell?? What do I say to him when he runs away because he struggles to understand life, bearing in mind that he is a fit 20 year old, taller, faster and stronger than me?? Think about a very young mind in an adults body, it's hard at times. Autism is a hidden disability and NOT naughtiness!!
One grounding thought is that OJ's is named after my son who is called Oliver and his middle name is James but he's not aware of this. He isn't able to come to all the sessions that we run at the moment but that doesn't make me want to stop doing what I do because many others benefit from OJ's. It's my aim to keep things going and improve OJ's the best I can so that we can offer more to our children and families.
We run a Saturday Club and family events during holidays and a place of our own would mean that we can offer more every day. We have many ideas of what we can offer and here are a few;
- > sensory and general play with individual rooms for those who struggle and need some quiet time
- > a coffee shop where we provide work opportunities for adults with disabilities
- > sessions for children and adults who require a very high level of support and have challenging behaviour
- > dance sessions differentiated for our children and adults
- > sibling club and support (THIS IS AN AREA THAT IS VERY MUCH IN NEEED AND CAN BE OVERLOOKED)
- > counselling service
- > under 5's group
- > adult sessions and evenings
- > special needs birthday parties for all ages
- > general stay and play sessions
- > indoor park area specially adapted for our children and adults
- > indoor bike area with specially adapted bikes.
- > become a Makaton Approved centre and support families who use Makaton and provide training.
These are just a few ideas and the list grows every time we speak about it. I believe this is achievable with a graded opening plan and will be 100% dependent on the level of funding that we are successful with. I envision this to be a safe and understanding place to be, where children and families can rely on, a real hub of activity and positivity for all involved.
PLEASE PLEASE READ ON......
Our Saturday Club has been running for almost a year now and has been a great pilot project to evidence the need for an OJ's Centre. Here are a few comments from families in support of our dream;
1. OJ’s is a lovely friendly group that don’t judge. As a parent of 2 boys with autism I feel very well supported and the staff are always on hand to help and offer support. It’s a place I know I can take them without being judged. Lisa and her staff are fantastic x TW
2. Without this group I would really struggle to take my autistic son to activities, it is an absolute godsend, and Lisa Donoghue is amazing and so friendly, she has a real understanding of what autism parents go through, long may this group continue xx KM
3. My name is VH, I’m one of the amazing young people who came to OJ’s when it started. We had an awesome group at Chipping Village Hall when Lisa Donoghue founded the group a lot of years ago.
I had an amazing time when it ran their crafting, bouncing in the castle and the parties were the best.
The people understood there if I was scared of a noise I got reassured, there was always a quiet place to be if it got too much and I was respected for being who I wanted to be.
Lisa has always made it about family and the family days were special at Longridge Sports Centre through the holidays and I met lots of friends.
Lisa has worked tirelessly for this charity for many years and knows first hand the challenges families like mine and the ones they support now face.
OJ’s is a safe haven for all these children and their families, it’s a life line to many. My family love reading the news what they’ve done and achieved.
I’d urge anybody reading this to support this charity because it is super special.
V’s mum and VH
4. We take our son P he is 7 years old and he has Down Syndrome, and he absolutely loves OJ’s, he has become confident with himself. He asks to go. JJ
5. OJ’s is invaluable to a lot of families whom have autistic children, it’s a safe fun environment where they can play, run and release knowing they are in a safe unjudgmental environment.
It is a lot of parents weekly routine as they struggle to go places and safely enjoy them.
We take our autistic son and 2 neurotypical children and they all enjoy it and benefit and it’s something we can all enjoy together as a family, not only that but get to meet and socialise with other families and build relationships and offer/get support.
The staff are wonderful and so friendly, OJ’s is truly a wonderful group and we are very grateful to have it on our doorstep……hopefully it will continue to run for many years. CA
6. OJ’s Care is a great place for us, it’s a place to go with no judgements. A place that my child can play and feel happy. We would be lost without you. We would love to see OJ's Care expand to provide care for summer holidays…a time which is so unsettling for our autism family x KM
7. OJ’s is a fantastic club that provides brilliant services and support to young people and families with autism. We would be lost without the Saturday Club! A place our children can all play and have fun in a warm environment that is staffed by friendly, hands on staff and where every other family understands and no one is judged and anything goes! Our autistic son and our neurotypical son both look forward to Saturday afternoons.
It’s one of the few places as a parent we could if we wanted take both children on our own but we both often come as we enjoy it too! Talking to other families, a hot cup of tea and some family time out of the house!
Thank you OJ’s!
Please everyone support this fantastic group xxx GT
8. K who is autistic and E who is neurotypical both love coming to OJ’s.
It’s a place where no child is judged, no funny stares or questions. It’s a safe environment and they can just play and burn off a little of their energy :)
Everybody that attends just ‘get it’ as we are all in the same boat. It allows for us parents to talk to adults, make friends and release any frustrations, share ideas and your experience with current challenges you face with an ASD child.
Lisa and all the team are amazing, such a great support, they watch/play with your child/children allowing for parents to talk and most importantly to be able to relax.
OJ’s is part of our weekend routine, and we wouldn’t have a large safe place to play with the kids if it didn’t continue :) RS
9. OJ’s is a fantastic group and is needed within our community.
It can be difficult out and about for children and families with additional needs but OJ’s is a safe place for children and young people to run around and burn off energy also parents have the chance to support each other too.
The staff at OJ’s are lovely and always play and interact with the children and can be a great help if needed. Lisa and the staff take notice of the groups interests and asks what does and may not work.
Both my boys have got to know the group and the routine and always look forward to going to OJ’s.
On top of the usual Saturday group the half term activities are a great support and we wouldn’t have managed the Barton Grange Xmas activities without the support from the ASD session that was put on by this group. MO
10. My son J who is autistic and ADHD loves coming to OJ’s. He loves all the activities. It is brilliant to take him somewhere where people get it. The staff are amazing. They are very helpful and supportive. It has also been great to have the opportunity to meet and speak to other parents who are in the same situation as me. Thank you very much. This service is a god send as I struggle to take him places. KL
11. I have 4 children. 2 of which are diagnosed with autism, and another with additional needs also. 3 of my children are close in age twins age 3, and one age 2. The eldest is 11. It is really difficult to go anywhere where we can all go together, and I know everybody will enjoy it and they will all be safe. Lisa and her team are fantastic. Nothing is too much for them, and help is always there if you need it. They run a fantastic club and provide a great support for families with autistic/related disorders children. R
- Money raise will go towards securing a lease, rent, core costs, salaries, resources, training and setting up the coffee shop.
Thank you for reading this, if you have got this far! Autism awareness and acceptance is my thing and I hope that you have learnt something by just reading this short piece about my journey. Thank you, Lisa