Making the most of the school holidays

When you have a disabled child, the approach of the school holidays can feel like a daunting time. But you may find it helpful to know that your disabled child or young person has certain rights relating to play and leisure, and holidays. Taking a family holiday needn’t be out of the question - it needs more planning and research of course, but there are many organisations that provide holidays and holiday accommodation for families with disabled children. There are also organisations who can help you fund a holiday or leisure activities, see our guide to Holidays, play and leisure below.

While the additional planning that goes into arranging a holiday might seem to take away some of the spontaneity of planning a break [3], there are a few different options for families wanting a holiday. One study looking at holidays for families with a disabled child [2] looked at three different ways families can go on holiday: 

  • Individual holidays, where just one parent goes away
  • Joint holidays, where the couple goes away together without the children
  • Family holidays, where both partners and the children all go away together

Many parents in the study seemed to enjoy the opportunity to have holidays on their own, making the most of having a bit of personal time and space, without the need to plan too rigorously. If you’d love to get away without the children (and we all need a break from time to time!), there are organisations who run great summer camps for disabled children, with activities like canoeing, biking or archery to suit all levels of ability.Some cater for children with complex health needs and have 24 hour nursing staff and carers on site. This can be a great way for your child to have fun, try new experiences and make friends. Siblings may be able to go too, or may be able to access other holiday camps or activities with their friends. Young carers projects often provide summer holiday activities for siblings - find your local young carers project at: http://www.youngcarer.com/young-carers-services

Even if you can’t get away for a longer break, one study found that the majority of disabled children had very similar summer holiday experiences to non-disabled children. For example, ‘buddying’ system pairing disabled children with non-disabled children, helped break down the barriers between disabled children and mainstream activities. Having a non-disabled friend allowed disabled children easier access to youth clubs, cinemas, sports centres, etc. Another example is of two learning disabled teenagers who volunteered in a Saturday club and a holiday club for younger people. They described it as a ‘rewarding’ experience and said it allowed them to integrate more with other children. One 9-year-old boy interviewed in the study said:

I wanted to go to the Saturday club… I like spending time with my friends. Once Friday’s over you won’t see them [friends], so I decided to go to Saturday club to be with my friends. [4]

Disabled children also talked about going camping with scout groups, or taking family day trips to the beach or to theme parks as highlights of their school holidays. Half of the children in the study had attended organised play schemes, run by local children’s services or by voluntary services. All of them were generally positive about their experiences of the school holidays.

But for many of us, going away as a family is key, because it gives us a stronger sense of connection with our family and friends, and also a feeling of being in control, and having more freedom and independence [2]. Leisure and recreational activities can give you a chance to get out and spend time together, which has been proven to improve quality of life [Jo et al]. In fact, memorable and meaningful experiences can be more valuable to your quality of life than material goods. The things you do are more important than the things you have [1]. 

Whatever your situation, and your needs at this time, Contact's guide to Holidays, play and leisure has information on what play and leisure options may be available, including days out, camping holidays for children, and wish-granting charities, who may fund a disabled child’s ‘wish’, which could be a holiday. It also has information about arranging holidays with disabled children, help to pay for holidays and finding holiday and travel insurance.

References:

[1] Oppermann, M., & Cooper, M. (1999). Outbound travel and quality of life: The effect of airline price wars. Journal of Business Research, 44(3), 179-188. 

[2] Mactavish, J. B., MacKay, K. J., Iwasaki, Y., & Betteridge, D. (2007). Family caregivers of individuals with intellectual disability: Perspectives on life quality and the role of vacations. Journal of Leisure Research, 39(1), 127. 

[3] Jo, S., Huh, C., Kosciulek, J. F., & Holecek, D. F. (2004). Comparison of travel patterns of families with and without a member with a disability.Journal of Rehabilitation, 70(4), 38.

[4] Knight, A., Petrie, P., Zuurmond, M., & Potts, P. (2009). ‘Mingling together’: promoting the social inclusion of disabled children and young people during the school holidays. Child & Family Social Work, 14(1), 15-24.

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