AUTISM-FRIENDLY EXMOOR

Tucked away on the fringes of Exmoor National Park you will find a self-catering farm complex with a difference. North Hayne Farm  is a happy, vibrant business where young children run freely, collecting eggs, bottle-feeding lambs and helping with farm duties. The complex of eight, high-standard, stone-built cottages, however, goes that little bit further as it also specialises in providing holidays for children with autism. North Hayne Farm is the first business in North Devon to achieve the National Autism Society (NAS) ‘Autism Friendly Award’.

Owner Cheryl Dixon, a former early years practitioner and lecturer, began to notice a marked increase in visitors who had children on the autism spectrum back in 2012. Over the following years she saw how these children benefitted from small changes her and her husband Roger made to the website, to the cottages, to the arrival and welcome process and, in particular, to the structured farm routines that were a major part of the holiday experience they offered.

“We wanted to further our understanding and undertook some formal staff training from the Devon Autism Centre. This, together with the support and encouragement from our wonderful visiting families, gave us the confidence to enter for the award,” says Cheryl.  “Autism is no longer that misunderstood condition it once was, and yet so many children with autism and their families struggle to find suitable holidays that can make the world of difference to them all.”

Cheryl and Roger were thrilled to learn that they had successfully achieved the award, and a little surprised to learn that we are the first business in North Devon to attain this. “How great would it be if more businesses could join us in helping to make Devon and Exmoor a more autism-friendly destination?” says Cheryl. “Simple changes to everyday routines can make huge differences but fundamentally two things really make the difference; firstly, remaining non-judgmental when you meet someone who may be on the ‘spectrum’ and therefore behave just that little bit differently to what you might expect, and secondly, taking the time to raise your own awareness of the condition.”

So many of the parents visiting North Hayne Farm who have children on the ASD spectrum comment on little things that will have made such a difference to their overall holiday experience. It might be the assistant who showed such patience or thoughtfulness when queuing for a ride became too difficult, or the waiter who handed out ‘fidget toys’ while their child waited for their meal, or even the person at one of the theme parks who noticed that communication was difficult and began to ‘sign’ instead.

As Cheryl says, “It all makes such a difference and from a tourism point of view makes so much sense. Why go somewhere different when you experience such a positive and understanding approach to your family’s needs right here on Exmoor?”

For more information contact Cheryl Dixon at North Hayne Farm Cottages:  info@northhaynefarmcottages.co.uk

PHOTO: Cheryl and Roger with their award