Marc and Lisa Fleming live in Monifieth, Angus with their 11-year-old twin boys, Keir and Luka, and daughter Rosie (7). Both working full-time, Marc is a lecturer and Lisa a social care worker. Keir and Luka were both diagnosed with autism and ADHD at the age of three.

Marc said, “Bringing up twins is challenging enough but having two boys with additional support needs can be extremely tough. As they approached school age, it was becoming increasingly difficult to take them anywhere, especially when with just one parent, as they need one-to-one supervision. We realised we had a real lack of social  interaction outwith the family, and it was becoming pretty hard to go anywhere and have a normal family experience with the kids. Through no fault of our own, we were also being excluded from days out with other families and could see we were at risk of only ever doing things on our own.

“We came to realise that we really needed some extra support as a family. The Yard works on so many levels. The boys can be themselves in a non-judgemental environment, with staff who are trained to cope with the boys’ responses and stimulate their interest. Even though they’re twins, they don’t always want to be together, so The Yard is big enough to allow them time to play apart and play with others."

If they have a meltdown or an off-day, it doesn’t matter. They’re comfortable there, they can express themselves without being judged. Neither the boys or we as parents get that freedom anywhere else, that acceptance. That gave us a new level of confidence and reassurance.

"It’s really tough as a parent worrying how your child might react or respond when out and about, and what other people think, but at The Yard, they don’t need to alter their behaviour just to be socially acceptable. No one’s telling them to ‘calm down’ or ‘behave’ – the staff know exactly how to respond and support them.”

The added bonus to life at The Yard is that siblings and the wider family can also attend, a huge factor for the Fleming family with Rosie to consider too.

“One of us usually takes all three of the kids to give the other some peace or the chance to meet up with friends. Rosie loves The Yard, looks forward to it as much as the boys do. She loves arts and crafts, messy play, interacting with other children and the staff. She’s a young carer in many ways, but too young to be one, so this gives her respite too. She sometimes misses out on activities and days out, so The Yard is a brilliant place for her to run around and play with her brothers or other siblings. For her age, she’s emotionally intelligent and we think that’s partly down to The Yard too – she’s got real empathy for other children and knows what it’s like, she’s very tuned into that way of thinking. We’re so proud of her as well as the boys.”

Similarly, Marc and his wife Lisa’s parents can also take their grandchildren to The Yard, giving both parents some well-deserved time off together. 

As they get older, our parents are finding it harder to handle the boys, but it’s more feasible taking them to The Yard as the support is there, coupled with the fact that they can relax if anything becomes tricky. If they were out and about, it would be very different. Any visit or activity could be short-lived, if not impossible.

However, then came COVID-19, and the subsequent lockdowns and closures.

“Domestically, we had to make adjustments. We both work full-time, but suddenly there was that extra pressure of occupying and attempting to home-school all three of the children, too. My work went online but my wife was still out of the house working. Everything was made worse on the social front with blanket bans affecting the things families normally do, but all made so much worse for families like ours.  It seemed so unfair that neurotypical kids could enjoy outdoor facilities but The Yard Dundee had to remain closed. Basically, our only form of respite was taken away from us – we relied on it, so when it reopened, it was like getting our lifeline back.

“When we think ahead to the future, it can sometimes feel uncertain. It all boils down to the opportunities that are out there. As they become teenagers and young adults, we’d love our boys to enjoy normal social activities like going to a disco or a club. However, we do worry they might not get that sort of life experience and gain the skills they’ll need for adulthood and independence, but also just for their general wellbeing.

“We know that a purpose-built Yard is coming to Dundee and we’re hanging onto that because, longer-term, we will need more as a family, more activities and support, and more time and days to attend. The prospect of being housebound with nowhere to go is real, but I very much hope that’s not the case and that The Yard can continue and expand on the brilliant and life-changing work that they do. Indeed, we’re hoping even more opportunities will open up to support the boys as they approach adulthood and need a sense of purpose to progress with the rest of their lives.”

The Yard is open to all families who have a child with a disability. Please contact us to arrange your first free taster session. After your first visit, you can become a member then drop-in at any family session.