“I love Daisy Chain and although Rhys is anxious, so long as he is with me, he loves it too. I am trying to get him to go more often.”

Currently the family, who live in Darlington, travel through to Daisy Chain once a month. Says Melissa, “Rhys really comes out of his shell when he is at Daisy Chain. Because Rhys is a big boy, he looks older than ten so if he gets upset out in public, people do stare at you which is why it is brilliant being at Daisy Chain because no-one stares and there are staff on hand to offer help if you need it.”

Rhys had problems with his health from birth – at just two days old he was rushed to hospital with a chest infection and Sepsis, “We nearly lost him,” Melissa explains. “Then as he began to get a little older he would hit his head off the floor which was very worrying at nine months. He would have meltdowns and get very upset if things were not done the way he wanted them to be and he just couldn’t cope at all with noisy places.”

Melissa tried everything, including family counselling and various support groups, but nothing made any difference to her son’s behaviour so she returned to health services and in January 2017, Rhys was given a diagnosis of autism, ADHD and sensory processing disorder.

“I have accepted that Rhys has these conditions but you do go through a grieving process. At the moment, Rhys is a bit up and down. Bedtime is difficult as he finds it extremely hard to switch off. Also, it can be hard to get him to leave the house and it’s not easy to be stuck inside all the time. Finding Daisy Chain was a huge boost for us. It’s the understanding from the staff and other parents which is fantastic.”

Living just a few doors away from her mum, stepdad and sister means Melissa has a strong support network right on her doorstep, “I couldn’t manage without them,” she says. “They take Rhys away on holiday to give me respite and sometimes getting out the house is just visiting them and going in the garden.”

Nevertheless, Melissa wants to widen Rhys’s experience and Daisy Chain offers a safe alternative. “When we first went, Rhys said it wasn’t for him but I kept taking him because it’s such a lovely place and he needs to get out of the house. Now he says it is for him, he relaxes when he is there, it is such a safe place, the staff are lovely with him, they give him all the time in the world.

“The activities are great too. Table tennis is not something we would normally be able to do as other kids would be waiting to get on for their go and they might be watching him, whereas at Daisy Chain everyone is the same and you are not judged if you don’t hit the ball.”

Attending the Links support group for parents and carers has also been a lifeline for Melissa. “You learn a lot there from the staff, experts who come in to talk and other parents.”

Melissa is hoping that Rhys will eventually be able to access an after-school club as well as the activity days. “Rhys manages well in school, he doesn’t need help academically but he is excused from playtimes because he finds it difficult to understand the rules of games, instead he sits in the staff room. I want him to be able to make friends, it’s an important part of life and Daisy Chain is the best place to start to learn to socialise. I am just so glad that, despite being a bit of a distance away in Darlington, it is available to us.”

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