Neurodiverse Sessions at Summer of Smiles 

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When I was lucky enough to be commissioned for my work as a young journalist at the festival, I was over the moon! There was one piece I was particularly excited to write up, which focussed on the neurodiverse sessions every Thursday morning at the main site. 

From a personal perspective, I was impressed with Child Friendly Cardiff’s commitment to making Summer of Smiles accessible for everyone in the city. As a young man with autism, I can empathise with the other young people at the festival during this slot, and it has been fantastic to talk about the importance of making events like this more neurodiverse friendly. 

What was the thinking behind it? 

Ruth is one of the Project Support Workers at Child Friendly Cardiff, and she sat down with me to discuss the rationale behind introducing a neurodiverse friendly session. 

“We organised the festival to give children in Cardiff a reason to smile after a pretty shoddy year. That had to include children who are neurodiverse. It is incredibly important that [the needs of] children with neurodiverse thinking are considered as much as all the other children in our city.” 

“Part of that is making the sessions quieter and more inclusive so that they can enjoy the festival as well.” 

When I was a child, this level of thinking when it comes to including neurodiverse children in similar events to other children would have been a godsend to both my Mum and I. It has been fantastic to see children and young people having fun at the festival, when they would otherwise be isolated not by circumstance, but because their needs haven’t been considered by the organisers. 

This is where Summer of Smiles is different. 

Something to suit everyone 

I have never believed in the term ‘neurotypical’ when it comes to differentiating between those who may and/or may not face extra difficulties and have hidden disabilities. So, in that sense, one could argue that everyone is neurodiverse. Yet, Ruth told me that we can be doing much more to make our city more neurodiverse friendly. 

“If this is a microcosm of how we are going to see Cardiff develop, as a city, we have to see that every child can be represented.” 

“We have to see that every child can be represented and that there is a place to go where those children can be who they are and accepted. Unfortunately, Cardiff, and just about every other place on Earth, is not widely set up for children who are neurodiverse.” 

“There is always more that we can do. But, in relation to children who are neurodiverse there is a long way to go. These kinds of sessions are a great start, but we have only just scraped the tip of the iceberg.”  

How is it different from the normal sessions? 

“Generally, we try to make it a festival site that is accessible and friendly for neurodiverse children anyway, so it isn’t as if this slot is the only time neurodiverse children can come along.”  

The site itself does have a quiet tent, which is open all day every day, where anyone can go if they feel they need to take some time out of the hustle and bustle of everything that is happening as well as specially trained staff on site every day. 

“We wanted to make it clear that there was one morning a week that every staff member was briefed, told that neurodiverse children will be on site and tailor their activities to that. There is less noise, more sensory elements to the session and everyone, from security guards to stallholders, have been advised on how to enhance the experience for everyone at the festival.” 

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