These are a Few of my Favourite Things

Mark Arnold by Mark Arnold Additional Needs

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and supp...

Something that evokes happy thoughts and memories for us, something that brings us welcome peace in an otherwise chaotic world…

It might be a favourite place, some favourite music, or even a favourite food (chocolate, anyone?)

Somewhere or something that is always reliable, and that in that moment helps us to forget about everything else and just enjoy it.

And while that can be the case for many of us as parents of children with additional needs or disabilities, this can be just as relevant to our children too…

Children like my son, James, who is 15 next week and who has Autism Spectrum Condition and associated learning difficulties.

Sometimes, for James, life can be overwhelming… he reaches the point where he can’t hold it all together any longer…

That’s when we go out for a, ‘Treat Trip’…

The fun starts with the journey itself.  James will pick up clues about where we might be going in a number of ways… starting with where he is sat in the car!

If he is sat next to me in the front seat, ‘riding shotgun’, then that’s a clue.

As we head out on our journey, James will respond to the route we are taking. There is one turning that if we take it means we’re definitely going on a ‘Treat Trip’!

James is mostly non-verbal, but when we take that turning, he’ll smile, he’ll shudder with pleasure, and he’ll giggle with delight!

James is VERY food motivated… he eats well and has a varied diet, but he does also have his favourites, and these always need to play a part during a ‘Treat Trip’.

First stop is at a much loved farm shop near Wimborne in Dorset (shout out to Pamphill Dairy Farm Shop here!).  We’ve taken James there for years and they know him well.

They know that he will enjoy browsing around the food and will probably settle on a packet of barbeque flavoured ‘Popchips’ (other potato based snacks are available).

They also know that James will add a packet to our basket, but will open another packet there and then and eat most of them before we get to the till!

“Don’t forget to ring up the packet he’s eaten…” is a phrase I have grown accustomed to saying; but rather than be difficult about it they are blissfully, wonderfully fine about it all…

Such a joy to go somewhere that, ‘gets’, Autism!

We then go for a lovely drive up through the north Dorset countryside, through a long avenue of 365 mature beech trees (one for every day of the year) by Badbury Rings, past the old Roman town of Blandford Forum and on into the countryside until we get to the next place on our ‘Treat Trip’ road trip…  Zig-zag Hill.

James loves Zig-zag Hill because, as the name suggests, it’s a series of hairpin turns which, while driving safely within the speed limit, Daddy can make quite exciting by drifting around the corners.

Squeals of joy match the squeals from the tyres, and the emergence of one of James’ few words “More!” accompany this climb up the steep hill.

Situated near the top, on one of the high points of the whole region, is Compton Abbas Airfield  a little grass airstrip with a lovely café/restaurant.

James loves going here to watch the little planes take off and land; they have some vintage specimens such as a Tiger Moth bi-plane and a Harvard Warbird (for the plane geeks out there!).

But what James loves most is tucking into a large slice of millionaires’ shortbread and gulping back a glass of cool lemonade!

He will savour every crumb, every drop, until it is all gone and will longingly look towards the counter again for more!

We can while away quite some time here, until it’s time to head back to the car and start the journey home again.

This is another place that James is really welcome at, and where he very much feels at home.

You’ll appreciate that having topped up James’ previously consumed Popcrisps with a large slice of millionaires’ shortbread and some lemonade, we take a different route home avoiding Zig-zag Hill in favour of a more sedate option!

Depending on the time, we might call in at Blandford Forum to one of Daddy’s favourite places, the Hall & Woodhouse “Badger” brewery shop, where James gets to practice another of his words… “Beer!”

(Don’t ask… a story for another day!)

Eventually, we arrive back home, happy and full both of good memories and cake.

‘Treat Trip’ has worked its magic again… the familiarity, the welcome, the routine, the food - always the same.

It’s a special time and one we’ll be repeating again this weekend as James reaches another half-term holiday.

A half-term that he’s found hard at times, but he will happily shed those difficult memories as we enjoy making some happier memories together on another, ‘Treat Trip’…


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