Emma Cairns is one of our Intensive Interaction Play workers. She’s a regular member of staff on our play scheme and she hosts M.A.T.E.S., our social group for children and young adults on the autistic spectrum.
Emma knows all the best places to take our ausome kids! She’s handpicked a list of five venues in the North East of England where autistic children and their siblings can blow off steam or get involved in fun activities. These are venues that are accessible and autism-friendly. Most of them go out of their way to provide inclusive facilities and activities for children with all sorts of additional needs, not just autism. Do give them a ring before you visit though, so you can discuss your family’s specific needs.
Emma’s Top 5 Autism-Friendly Places To Take Kids In The North East
1. The Alan Shearer Centre
The Alan Shearer Centre in East Denton, Newcastle Upon Tyne is a specialist recreational, sensory and social centre for disabled people of all ages.
Here you can play in the giant ball pool and the outdoor play area. There are two sensory rooms and a creative sound and music room. If you need something a bit more relaxing, take a walk in the garden and grounds. There’s even have a hydroptherapy pool. If you need a rest after all that activity, there’s a cafe too!
2. Seven Stories
The nation’s only centre dedicated to children’s books works hard to be as accessible and autism-friendly as possible. Once a month on the first Saturday, Seven Stories opens early from 9-10am just for those on the autism spectrum. These sessions are followed at 10am by a relaxed version of the centre’s popular story time.
You can download a thorough and well-illustrated social story to prepare for your visit. Sensory backpacks and ear defenders can be borrowed from reception. The centre has quiet spaces to escape to if it all gets a bit too much – ask the staff where they are.
There are plenty of events and activities on offer for the whole family at this museum on the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle, plus permanent and visiting exhibitions. There’s a very good café and an enormous and well-stocked children’s book shop. You can visit both of those at any time without going into the museum.
3. The Tim Lamb Centre
This centre in the Rising Sun Country Park in Newcastle provides social and recreational activities for children with disabilities and additional needs. The Tim Lamb Centre was set up after Lynn McManus experienced first hand just how difficult it is for some children with additional needs to access mainstream facilities like soft play venues.
At this autism-friendly venue you can use the soft play, sensory room, music suite, craft room, outdoor play area, teen room, and IT suite when you become a member for just £15 a year. (Some activities have small additional costs.) There’s something on every day, including an autism-specific play session every Tuesday from 4pm – 7pm. There’s also a café, and the opportunity to hire adapted bikes so the whole family can go cycling round the park.
4. Newburn Activity Centre
Newburn Activity Centre near Newcastle has a sensory room, and an Omni-Vista Interactive Projection room with a screen on the floor that reacts to touch. Lucky Star and Freestyle drop-in activity sessions are just for those with special needs and are autism-friendly. They feature activities like trampolining, football, judo, archery and using the gym.
The centre has a fleet of mountain bikes and adapted bikes for hire with something to suit every need. They also have a Clip & Climb climbing wall with auto belays. See their website for a timetable with information about all of their children’s activities.
5. Plessey Woods
This magical woodland park in Bedlington has a hundred acres of space to run about in. The visitor centre and café near the car park is open is open from 10.30am-4pm on Saturdays, Sundays, bank holidays. There’s a small children’s play area here too, and wide open meadows with picnic tables.
Take a walk along the river or paddle and play pooh sticks in the stream that leads to it. If you’re lucky you might see a fox or red squirrel. Find the fairy doors in the trees and play on the forest drum kit. See if you can spot some of the other rustic artworks hidden here! Some of the paths and steps are quite steep and rugged, but surfaced paths suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs run from the visitor centre through the woods to the river. There’s a permanent orienteering walk which should please map-lovers – pick up a guide from the visitor centre. The park has activities for nature lovers, with lots to do in the school holidays. Information on Plessey and the other parks in Northumberland can be found here.