Meet the family

Siobhan and Patrick live in Edinburgh with their sons Adam (9) and James (8). Adam has autism, is non-verbal and has mobility issues. Siobhan is a nurse and Patrick is Adam’s main carer.

Their challenges

The family’s challenges date back to Adam’s nursery days, before his diagnosis. Siobhan explained, “These were chaotic days. Adam would literally last 15 or 20 minutes at nursery, have a meltdown and then fall asleep. I was constantly being phoned to go and collect him.

“Similarly, the weekends were hard. We were constantly divided as a family, as we couldn’t take the boys to the same places. Parks were too open – Adam could run off with no notice and is prone to tripping due to the way he walks. Soft play wasn’t an option either as the other children didn’t ‘get’ him. The children he was trying to play with would walk off and parents would stare. It was pretty soul-destroying. We were also very aware that James was suffering, as we often had to leave places early. It just didn’t work on any level and we were starting to dread weekends.”

However, life started to take a positive turn when a staff member at the nursery mentioned The Yard, with Siobhan adding, “That’s when life was about to change, although we didn’t know it yet!”

Discovering The Yard

Even though Adam now has a diagnosis, The Yard does not require this for a child to attend, so when Siobhan got in touch, she was invited to ‘just drop in’ - a refreshing change in itself.

“Some special needs services are like secret societies. No one really knows what’s on offer and there can be many barriers and hoops to jump through. You feel like you’re always going over your history, but at The Yard, there’s none of that.”

Struck by the warm welcome on arrival at The Yard, Siobhan’s nerves and pre-conceived ideas about the visit soon disappeared.

“The first thing Adam did was take his wellies and socks off. I panicked and told him to put them back on, but right away, the staff said just to leave him if that’s what he wants to do. At that point, I knew The Yard was different. Then I saw the outdoor space, the activities inside, heard the laughter and realised this was a safe space where Adam could be Adam. It felt like The Yard was built for us, built for Adam – he’s wanted, welcome and understood.”

Since then, The Yard team has supported Adam with a number of firsts – his first birthday party (“completely off-limits before”, said Siobhan), his first time on a bike and skates, his first Christmas party, his first snowball fight and his first time meeting Santa. Siobhan herself even enjoyed her first cup of tea in peace in six months, and received her first-ever painting from Adam, something they couldn’t get him to focus on at home.

What’s more, because The Yard is there to support the whole family, not just the child with a disability, Adam’s brother James has also benefited hugely from The Yard.

“The Yard bridges the gap between mainstream children and those with additional needs. The staff are unbelievably skilled at what they do, brilliant role models and clearly love what they do. James loves it too, gets lots of attention and has made friends with other siblings. He can vent if he feels the need and now has a deeper understanding of his brother. We’ve also made friends and built networks with like-minded families. It really has changed things for all four of us.”

Until COVID-19, the family was attending The Yard every weekend, with Adam also enjoying the 4-9s club on Mondays.

Lockdown experience

In March 2020, everything changed. At that time, Siobhan and Patrick’s jobs meant they were ‘passing ships in the night’, so the couple made the bold decision for Patrick to give up his job and become Adam’s full-time carer. However, this led to unexpected complications.

Siobhan explained, “Unfortunately, despite trying their best to get a key worker place for Adam, the school couldn’t accommodate Adam because his dad’s now at home. We didn’t realise it at that point but the next few months were going to be very difficult. Adam’s behaviour and sleeping pattern changed, he became fussier with his food, and became very restless and irritable. We tried to get him out for walks as we don’t have a garden, but you can’t walk anywhere here without passing a park and they were all shut due to COVID. Every outing was impossible and ended in tears. In the end, we decided we would have to stay in. There was nothing else for it.”

Lockdown ended up being an expensive time for the family, as they bought an array of new toys and figures to keep Adam occupied. 

“The Yard did their best with online activities, and we did try some of the play ideas they shared videos of, but it wasn’t quite the same. For Adam, The Yard is about getting messy and playing, so we were very limited in what we could do.”

However, there was a welcome ray of sunshine as restrictions relaxed in September 2020 and the family successfully applied for sessions at The Yard. The family also signed up for their personalised Santa video, which marked the start of their festive celebrations.

Siobhan said, “We hooked my phone up to the big TV, put Christmas music on and switched on the video. I’ll never forget it when Santa said, 'Hi Adam and James…' – Adam was just gobsmacked. We went on to watch it again and again. We always went to The Yard’s Christmas party because it’s the only one we could go to, so the video made a massive difference and continued the tradition he’s come to enjoy at The Yard.”

Looking to the future

With Adam currently attending (and loving!) school on a Wednesday and Thursday, the family are enjoying ‘a welcome break’ from a very difficult year and cannot wait for The Yard to re-open in the weeks ahead.

Siobhan said, “I don’t like to think what life could be like if we hadn’t found The Yard. We were in complete limbo, totally lost, and now Adam has found real joy, and a place where he can be himself. To anyone thinking about it, get in touch and try it when it’s back up and running again. You don’t have to tell them your life story - if you think your child would benefit, you’re welcome. It really has changed our lives and we hope to be involved with The Yard for many years to come.”