choosing leisure activities

Like everyone else, children and young people with additional needs want to have a social life and take part in activities they enjoy. But as a parent you want to know that they will be welcome, safe and supported.

softplayWhen you are considering new activities you may have lots of questions. What will happen if my child is upset or has a tantrum? Is there a safe place to let off steam? What are the rules? Are they simple, fair, and make sense to the children? What happens if things don’t go as expected? What’s in place to help a child deal with disappointment? Will my child be encouraged to do as much as they can for themselves but not be left to struggle with things they can’t manage, or allowed to take unreasonable risks?

If you ask all your questions at the same time, it may feel like your child is too hard to include. So sometimes it’s useful to sit and see how a session runs. Written policies are fine, but what happens in practice is more important. Also, ask other children, young people and parents what they think. Their views might offer different perspectives that enrich your impressions.

You can get more tips on choosing leisure activities in our Choosing leisure fact sheet [pdf 830kb]

Finding fun stuff to do for kids with additional needs

If your child has significant special educational needs or a disability and lives or goes to school in Brighton & Hove or West Sussex , they’ll be eligible for a Compass Card and around 190 free or discounted leisure offers. Find out more about the Compass Card.

There’s a similar leisure discount scheme for families in East Sussex called the i-go card. Find out more about the i-go card in East Sussex.

To find out more about leisure activities that are inclusive or specifically for children with additional needs , visit our page on Fun things to do for kids with SEND.

Tips for choosing leisure for kids with additional needs

Should you stay or go?

Don’t dismiss a club because parents are required to stay. Some of the best activities are organised by other parents and volunteers who cannot take responsibility for supervising children who need the toilet or want to sit out for a bit. Sometimes you have to balance the value of a free or inexpensive opportunity for your child against the chance to have a break yourself. Also, these are often the places to meet other parents and exchange advice and support.

Inclusive or exclusive?

Sometimes disabled children and young people want to be like their non-disabled peers and to distance themselves as much as possible from their differences or disabilities. So they may want to join an activity that includes all kids, including those with special needs (we describe these as ‘inclusive’). At other times the same children may only feel confident in more exclusive activities alongside their disabled peers. Be aware how your child feels.

What matters to your child?

Remember, children just want to make friends and have fun. It’s easy to get too hooked up on rules and protocols, structure and learning outcomes, although these are all important. Encourage your child to think about what’s important – often things that might seem insignificant to us make a big difference to them. Once they’ve joined an activity ask your child how things are going and listen to them on all channels – if not in words, they may tell you through their behaviour or gestures what they do and don’t enjoy.


I try to let Christina to do the things that ordinary children take for granted – I try to make it possible for her to go to the park, we do swimming, we go horse-riding every week when she’s on holiday.
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