PACE Overnight Adventures: Case Study

Laurie* is a 12-year-old boy, who has Autism and learning disabilities, and is a largely non-verbal communicator. He also has ADHD, so is extremely active, but he has very limited awareness of danger and boundaries, and therefore requires constant adult supervision.

“He needs to be looked after every second, which makes it really hard for us at home. He lacks a sense of danger, and, because he’s so active, that means he’s constantly getting himself into dangerous situations. It’s not only tiring, but very frightening. We constantly need to look for and present danger, as well as trying to keep him engaged and cleaning up after him. It’s quite full-on.” (Laurie’s mother)

Looking after Laurie is extremely tiring and Laurie’s parents have very little respite. Laurie also has a 17-year-old brother, who needs their attention.

“Other children can go on play dates or sleepovers with friends, so as a parent you have some time to re-charge; but this isn’t possible with [Laurie]. We have no other family here, so the only other option is to pay somebody to look after him at home. I’ve never had a night off, unless I’ve had to go abroad with work.” (Laurie’s mother)

Laurie is a very good-natured boy, but can sometimes get frustrated, for example when children or adults do not understand what he is trying to communicate. When he is out, the adults with him have to set up lots of boundaries, and he can get very stressed, so taking him out can be challenging.

Laurie has been attending PACE’s Overnight Adventures for about four years. 3-4 times a year, he stays at Fortune Green play centre over a weekend, giving his parents 24 hours of respite. As with many other families who use the service, this is the only time they get this level of respite.

The Overnights Adventures give Laurie space to just be himself. He loves being outdoors, and the play centre has a great outside space with trees, logs, fire pits and many places to climb and dig. It is a very safe space for him, so he has the freedom to explore and play without many limitations. A lot of the time, he is happy creating his own play and doesn’t require much interaction from staff.


“When he comes to the overnights centre, for 24 hours he can be very free and has the space to just do his own thing and play uninterrupted. A lot of the time he likes to play on his own, and I can imagine in open spaces that is tricky; but in the centre he can get on with it on his own. He’s absolutely in his element when climbing on logs, collecting bits and pieces or playing with the soil. Staff can watch him from 5-10 metres away and not have to be right by his shoulder.” (Overnight Adventures Coordinator)

At the Overnight Adventures, Laurie is able to play freely, as the place is safe and he has close supervision combined with space, which is very different to his day-to-day life.

“There are very few times when we have to say that he can’t do something, which is very different from when he is at school or in public spaces, where I imagine he is told ‘No’ a lot of times” (Overnight Adventures Coordinator)

Laurie had never stayed away from home before, so he was quite nervous at first. But his confidence has grown steadily, and now he enjoys the weekends so much that he usually doesn’t want to leave. Staff and his parents have noticed the improvement in his confidence and communication skills:

“I can really see that he has really grown in terms of being able to communicate things. He clearly recognizes and knows all the people in the play centre, and is always happy to arrive” (Overnight Adventures Coordinator)

“It has had such a positive impact on him. Being away from us gives him a sense of independence. We can see that he’s more confident with himself, and his ability to build relationships with strangers –children and staff members - is growing. Sometimes at home we make it easy for him by trying to guess what he wants. But on the overnights, he’s forced to communicate - he has to confront his fears and do it, or he won’t make himself understood.” (Laurie’s mother)


*Names have been changed to respect anonymity