Oscar’s first trip to The National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth

On a recent trip to our childhood home town of Plymouth, we decided to try and have some family days out. We knew we wanted to spend some time on the Moors (and who wouldn’t) but we felt it was time for Oscar to try an ‘attraction’ again and so thought we’d give the National Marine Aquarium a go.

Oscar’s history with ‘attractions’ has been rather limited to be fair. We’ve stuck to large outdoor spaces, such as Zoos and parks and even then at potentially quiet times and with mixed results. His Autism means he doesn’t always access the attraction in the way other children might. And that’s fine, but it sometimes begs the question why pay out for him to just run around, when he can do that at the local park for free? Anyway, his speech and understanding are changing so much at the moment, that we thought it would be a good time to give him the opportunity to try an indoor attraction for a change. And as his current favourite book is ‘Barry the Fish with Fingers’, we thought the aquarium would be a good one to get him on board with.

The morning of the visit, we drew him a very basic visual timetable explaining that we were going in Daddy’s car, to see the fish at the ‘Aquarium’ and then we’d have some sweets and a juice box. Not sure why I added the bit on the end but a motivator felt like a good idea and I assumed the cafe in the aquarium would have something we could grab.

We knew the aquarium was likely to be busy; on a Saturday, the Saturday of Easter Weekend, a rainy Saturday of Easter Weekend!!! We planned to get there first thing, but getting ready took longer than anticipated and we arrived within 50 minutes of it opening. While Ben parked the car, I walked Oscar over the bridge to the entrance. We looked at the fish artwork and sculpture together and he was having great fun pointing things out. Then we got to the entrance. While I knew the place would be busy it didn’t even occur to me how big the queues would be. Why we hadn’t thought to book fast track tickets online (which you can do and which save you from queuing at all!) I don’t know, but I took one look at that queue and knew it wasn’t for my guy. We headed back to the car, having seen the ‘fish’ (artwork) and hoped that was enough.

Oscar insisted this sculptre outside the aquairum was a 'Dragon Fish' and that it was breathing fire! Photo by Patricia Richards-Skensved

Oscar insisted this sculpture outside the aquarium was a ‘Dragon Fish’ and that it was breathing fire! Photo by Patricia Richards-Skensved

He was fine with this change, and he had great fun playing with his cousin at my mum’s instead. Only then, over lunch, he started to ask: ‘Quarium?’ I was blown away to be honest. You never can tell how much is going in and yet it would seem the answer is ‘a whole lot’. We knew then we were going to have to go back. So we decided to head up there towards the end of the day. We got there around 3.45pm to find no queue to speak of and headed in. As Ben was paying they locked the entrance behind us. Phew, we timed that just right then!

And then we set off following the signs. Oscar held our hands, he walked, he waited when he needed to, he shocked us both! Then he came to the tanks and instead of running past, giving them a cursory glance he really stopped and looked. The tanks in the NMA are all so accessible to little ones and Oscar loved that he could get right up close and personal with the fish. He even commented on their colour and size and several times swore he saw ‘Barry’ (of the ‘fish with fingers’ fame 😉 ) . He went back and forth between a couple of his favourite areas, but for the most part he progressed between the zones when we asked without any fuss.

Walking with Daddy

Walking with Daddy

All the high tanks have steps up to them or are accessible from the floor.

All the high tanks have steps up to them or are accessible from the floor.

Look there's Barry!

Look there’s Barry!

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He loved the overhead/undefoot tanks. He was entranced!

Awright Ray!

Awright Ray!

Shark!

Shark!

He even interacted with other children visitors and when we came to the main tank viewing room, Ben and I sat down and Oscar quickly found another little boy to chase, and be chased by. It was quiet enough that nobody minded and it left him red faced, but happy.

Photo From Expedia

The National Marine Aquarium’s 2 million litre water tank. And a space to run around! Photo from Expedia

Would we go back? Absolutely, and I would absolutely go at the end of the day again, something I’d never considered before. It was quieter sure, but it was also just enough to time for him to enjoy it and not get bored. It also gave him a natural cut off point, i.e. we had to leave at 5 because they were closing. That worked really well and he was able to have a quick look round the gift shop at the end (he got a book by a local author) and head back to the car, happy as a sand boy. The only issue we had was parking. The aquarium doesn’t have its own car park and the nearest ones are a short walk away. This might be fine for some children, but Oscar often struggles to walk safely along busy roads and this was a deep concern. As it was Ben dropped us off by the Mayflower steps and was then able to (luckily) park on the seafront a minute away. But had this not been the case this could have derailed the visit before we’d started!

If you’re in the area we would highly recommend it. And if you have a child with Autism, I learnt that the aquarium will be holding a ‘quiet session‘ on 2nd April to mark World Autism Day. This might be a great way to introduce your child to the attraction. The aquarium have produced a great visual support document for those attending (available on the website), something that might be useful for any visit to be honest! My only advice would be to check out the parking situation prior to attending.

At the end of the day thought, we couldn’t get over how good the experience had been. I was so proud of my little guy and so pleased that the prep we did paid off. It can take quite a lot of gumption to throw yourself headlong into a situation that could be incredibly stressful. As it was the National Marine Aquarium made it easy for us and we’d like to thank them.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, we stopped in at Tesco on the way home and bought him sweets and a juice box.

 

 

Thank you to the National Marine Aquarium for a great day out. This was not a paid review, rather it’s just an account of our day out as a family and we paid for our tickets ourselves. Although had I remembered Oscar’s DLA letter, I could have got in for free as his carer. Next time!

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar’s Haircut at Little Locks

I try and find the joy in the everyday, well, every day, because that’s what make up life; the little things. But if you follow me at all on social media you will know that this week we’ve had what might be a little thing to many, but to us is a massive cause for celebration.

Oscar’s autism hasn’t shown us too many sensory issues as yet, at least not those you may recognise as typically autistic. He’s OK with sound and pretty cool with new places and crowds. If anything he’s under (hypo) sensitive to things like pain and he looooves to run. But one thing he can’t stand is very typically autistic. He hates, and I mean hates, having his hair cut. We’ve found a way to get him to have his hair brushed (just and only on a good day) and his nails clipped, but despite trying any number of things we just couldn’t get him to have his hair cut.

Oscar hates having his hair cut

Oscar hates having his hair cut

Then at the end of last year a new salon opened in Haslemere. A specialist children hair salon, Little Locks was set up by Hannah Clements and her family. Hannah has many years experience in salon management and her niece, the lovely Georgia, is a fully qualified stylist, specialising in children’s hair. It seemed like a no brainer that the two should come together and open the kind of salon Haslemere was clearly lacking. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I found out Little Locks was opening just down the road from us. We’ve tried various salons over the years and, except his first two haircuts, they’ve all been pretty disastrous. We’ve tried having stylists come to the house, including friends he was familiar with, and even I had a go at loping bits off here and there but it made no difference. I got the feeling that if we could get him slowly used to the notion of a haircut, this might help. So when Little Locks opened I decided to discuss my idea with Hannah.

The Little Locks team couldn’t have been more understanding. Hannah’s son is also autistic, so she knew the angle I was coming from straight away. She told me one of the reasons they had decided to open a children’s salon was because as a family, they were acutely aware of the need for sensitivity around something as potentially anxiety inducing as a child’s hair cut. The salon on Weyhill is a large airy space, with a choice of cool chairs (Bat Car anyone?), TVs at every station, with a huge choice of DVDs to watch and a play area. But the thing that impressed me the first time I went in was how open and calm the environment was. One of my big dislikes about other childrens salons I’d been in was the amount of stuff everywhere. Hair products, toys and books to buy. Pester power purchases for some parents, but needless stimulation for my guy. I’ve also been put off other salons by how geared towards girls the decor has been. Little Locks has avoided this, with beautifully gender neutral decoration, and toys (to play with not buy) and cool touches designed to appeal to both male and female customers.

So at Hannah’s suggestion we started the process of familiarising Oscar with the salon back in January. Initially we just popped in to play. And he loved it. Then we made an appointment just for him to play with Georgia, all of which he happily did. He still wouldn’t even let her brush his hair though. This carried on regularly for eight weeks. We got to the point that he loved going in there. He would talk about the salon at home, he would even ask to go to ‘Haircut’, but every time we went in, he would refuse to have anyone touch his hair and just wanted to play. Usually with their train set!

Oscar loves the trains at Little Locks

Oscar loves the trains at Little Locks

Despite all the haircut episodes of cartoons we were watching (I particularly recomend Dora and Team UmiZoomi!) and the amount of children he’d seen having their hair done at Little Locks, I started to worry. Had I gone over board with the ‘letting him get used to it’ shtick? Would he ever understand that Little Locks was a place to actually have a haircut, and not just to play?

Things have slowly come to a head over the past few weeks. We are going to Devon for his birthday/Easter holiday this week and his hair was getting so long and so heavy over his eyes that he actually couldn’t see properly. I decided I was just going to have to take the horse by the reigns. Even if I was going to have to pin him down, he had to at least get his fringe cut. It was starting to be dangerous to leave it any longer. So I made him an appointment on Tuesday. Hannah and I found a time when the salon would be as quiet as possible and they booked an extra long time slot for him.

The morning of the appointment I drew him a very basic visual timetable, explaining he was going in the buggy, to Little Locks, that he would have his hair cut ?? and then he could play with their trains ? and go to Dylan’s for ice cream?. He was NOT happy with this plan, but we went over it several times and I calmly explained that while I knew he didn’t like it, that it was going to happen. When it came to leave we went through it again and he screwed up the timetable, but got into the buggy without a fuss. The fact that he did that, I hoped bode well for the rest of it.

We arrived at the salon without incident and he immediately tried to run to the toys. I gently explained that these would come after the hair cut and led him over to the chairs. It became quickly apparent that he wasn’t ready to sit in the car chair alone yet, so we headed to the other end of the salon to the more grown up chairs and he sat on my lap. Georgia set up Ben and Holly (Oscar’s choice) on the DVD and I held on tight as she started on the fringe.

Yes he shouted (a lot) to begin with, and squirmed but nothing like as much as he has done on previous attempts. Last year he struggled so hard I pulled all the muscles in my back trying to hold onto him. This was nothing like that. Yes he didn’t like it. And that’s ok. Once he realised that this really was happening he focused on watching Ben and Holly, laid his head on my chest and stopped wriggling. With just an occasional protestation to ensure we still understood he wasn’t enjoying the situation!

Georgia worked quickly and thoroughly giving him as neater a style as she could manage without needing to get too close to the ears or to use the clippers. One step at a time after all. She was even able to use the thinning scissors to take some of the weight out of his hair. As soon as she finished, he jumped down and I stripped his tshirt off to ensure we got rid of as much hair as possible (as I thought trying to get him wearing a gown was probably a step too far yet). And we were done.

He looked AH MAY ZING darling!

A super smart boy plays with the long awaited toys

A super smart boy plays with the long awaited toys

We ran and found the trains and the toys and he played happily. He even found a box of deelyboppers the salon use when they host one of their popcorn and pamper parties and put one on!!! This from the child who would refuse a hat in the depths of winter! He laughed, he showed us toys, he even asked to get in the Bat Car and had great fun ‘driving fast’.

DeeleyBopper time!

DeeleyBopper time!

"Drive fast mummy"

“Drive fast mummy”

Afterwards Georgia and I were both genuinely a bit emotional. All that planning and perseverance and patience and here he was like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I was full to the brim with pride and gratitude. Georgia told me that it’s times like this that make her job worth doing and that really touched me.

We let him play for a while and then I explained it was time to go and without question he got in the buggy and wolfed the lolly Geogia gave him. I left feeling so proud. I felt like everyone on the street must be able to know by looking at him what monumentous event had just happened in our lives.

So I want to say thank you. To all the team at Little Locks for baring with us all these months and never making us feel anything less than welcome. To Georgia and Hannah for being patient and caring and truly understanding what we needed from you.

And to Oscar. I know you didn’t enjoy it my darling. I hope playing with the trains, and the magazine, the Rocky Dog, the ice cream and the Rocket Ship I got you on the way home helped make up for that. But thank you for trusting me. And making me feel like what I do for you, everything I do for you, is worth it.

My beautiful blue eyed boy

My beautiful blue eyed boy, with his smart new hair.

 

 

 

Thank you so much to Hannah and the team at Little Locks Haslemere. I know your business will go from strength to strength. I was not paid to write this review and I paid for Oscar’s haircut with my own money.

You can book an appointment with any of Little Locks stylists on their website. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram

 

 

A Cornish Mum