A judgement-free zone
“Oh my god, I think I’ve put on a stone in three days! Not one of the four of us was able to finish the packed lunch.” Helen and three of her children have recently returned from a short break with FHC and HF Holidays to Dovedale, Derbyshire, where the hotel food was just one of many highlights.
Her children couldn’t quite believe that not only could they choose their lunchtime sandwich fillings, but they could also select up to seven other items – crisps, brownies, trail mix, chocolate bars, etc – to take with them on their organised outings.
Before the holiday, Helen had been concerned that the kids might not find things they would want to eat while away and had packed a mountain of snacks. But she needn’t have worried. Even 10-year-old Mylee, who can find mealtimes difficult, was catered for brilliantly with the hotel staff remembering her likes and dislikes.
Helen’s anxiety levels about going away for a few days with other families had been high before meeting them. Mylee and her siblings Hallie and Harrison all have additional needs and the only other time they had gone away together – camping with a friend and her daughter – things hadn’t gone that well.
This time, Helen and the kids were the first to arrive at the coach pick-up point and she very nearly turned back before the holiday had even begun.
“I didn’t want to be judged or the children to be judged,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of that in the past. You know, if Mylee stripped naked, I didn’t want people looking at her. Or if she’s rolling around on the floor because something’s not right, I didn’t want anyone to think I can’t control my child.”
But the fact that many of the other families going to Dovedale also included autistic children reassured her and both she and the children quickly made new friends.
By the end of the three days together, everyone had noticed the difference in Helen’s kids, and in particular in Hallie. Aged 13, Hallie has Asperger’s and selective mutism, a severe anxiety disorder which means that she is unable to speak in certain social situations.
Helen is full of praise for the small army of people who helped to make the holiday possible, from the HF Holidays reps who played with her kids so that she could eat her dinner while it was still warm, to the family hub team who hired walking boots for everyone, to the hotel staff who built an obstacle course for all the children.
Each of Helen’s children came home with a different high point from the holiday. For her seven-year-old son Harrison, it was the tour of some caves formed more than 350 million years ago that sparkled with crystals. For Hallie, it was the food and the wide selection on offer at mealtimes.
Helen chuckles when she remembers what Mylee’s golden moment was. “There was this puddle that must have been five foot wide. She looked at me, I looked at her and just went ‘go on then’. She literally bounced through that puddle.” As soon as they got home from the holiday, Mylee asked to go straight back!