Not many boys growing up in Rutherglen can claim that their living rooms are kitted out with a trampoline and a swing.

But Oliver Bell’s is.

The autistic seven-year-old, who “lives in a wee world of his own”, has vestibular and proprioceptive hyposensitivity.

He’s under-sensitive to movement and pressure, which means he runs, bounces and jumps – and the indoor play apparatus helps him to expel his boundless energy.

“Some kids with autism are still and motionless, whereas my son is rough and tumble. He’s at the opposite end of the scale,” explained mum, Carol Osborne.

“He cannot sit for long. He’s got to be up, doing things. It helps him to concentrate. He is very rigid in his routine. You can’t tell him we are going to do something, and not do it. He uses a visual schedule every day, showing him in pictures what his day looks like.”

Oliver Bell loves playtime

Many parents have entered unchartered territories with their kids during lockdown – but none more so than the mums and dads of children who are on the autism spectrum.

In normal times, Oliver knows what his life is like.

He goes to school, comes home, eats dinner, goes to one of his many clubs, comes home, has a bath and goes to bed.

Now, thanks to the sensory kit he has received from charity Caudwell Children, he turns in at night hugging a weighted, heart-shaped pillow, which brings him comfort and stops the fidgeting.

“He cannot do school work because, in his head, school work has to be done in school. If you mention school work, or work sheets, or teachers, he cannot handle it,” explained Carol.

“Routine in the house is difficult. We’ve had to make the little activities the school have suggested play-based, with no mention of school – otherwise he runs a mile and gets upset.

“It’s about keeping him learning, but bears no relation to being in a classroom.

“He has lots of words and loves typing on the computer, and can read and spell perfectly – but communication is very delayed. He has a very significant speech and language delay.

“Most other kids are accepting of it. Some are curious, not knowing quite what to make of it.”

Oliver craves the company of his friends, especially the other children at his school who are autistic. They ‘get him’. Within Cathkin Primary School, he is in an additional support needs (ASN) class of six children, with one teacher and two support assistants.

When he’s not in school, during normal times Oliver is swimming, honing his gymnastics skills or playing football.

And on Saturdays, there’s a café club in Cathcart Parish Church, where he spends time with other ASN children.

Carol can, with confidence, leave him there, giving the single mum a welcome three hours’ respite.

Lockdown for Oliver and his mum has meant cycling together for miles – and when play parks reopened, it was a godsend for Carol.

But the winter cold snap has put paid to that.

Oliver was only two-and-a-half when a paediatrician concluded, after a 20-minute consultation, that it was “highly likely” that he was autistic. After six months’ speech and language therapy, he received a formal diagnosis of autism.

With many parents now having to wait and wonder for years, Carol considers it a blessing to have received that early diagnosis.

Carol and Oliver

Like many parents of autistic children, Carol has found that the most resourceful pool of knowledge is that provided by other mums, dads and carers.

During online chats with fellow members of Reach Autism Lanarkshire, other support groups and other parents of children who are on the spectrum, she recently became acquainted with lesser-known, Newcastle-under-Lyme-based charity, Caudwell Children, which was launching its new Get Sensory packs.

“Oliver is very sensory-seeking. I have bought bits and pieces of sensory equipment in the past, but they are really expensive – and sometimes it is a hit or a miss whether or not your child will be interested,” explained Carol, who applied for the pack and accepted the charity’s invitation for Oliver to attend an online play session with an occupational therapist to sample the new equipment and toys.

“I was able to see what was in the pack and I knew, based on what his sensory needs are, that Oliver would enjoy and benefit from a lot of the bits. I knew it would be a hit.”

Carol last month took delivery of a complimentary pack, which contains various pieces of equipment which both stimulate Oliver’s senses and promote relaxation, including scented bubbles, BoBo and four-ball massagers, spikey domes, a space blanket and a fibre optic lamp.

Oliver can use the large, sliver, sensory, ‘crunchy’ space blanket to build a den or roll on and, by jumping or stamping on nobbly, semi-circles, he can satisfy his sensory feet needs.

Carol said: “There are massage tools, which are a big hit, as he likes pressure on his body, and there’s a battery-operated one which looks like a ladybird and it vibrates. They are particularly good because he likes the pressure on his skin, and it helps him calm.

“There’s a weighted pillow in the shape of a love heart, which he takes to bed. It’s comforting. He can sit it on his knee if he feels a bit fidgety, and can use it on his legs and his back.”

The collection of sensory items have been selected by Caudwell Children’s occupational therapy and support team to offer children a broad range of sensory opportunities, therapeutic benefits and interactive experiences.

Trudi Beswick, CEO of Caudwell Children, said: “Our Get Sensory packs are designed to support children who are likely to benefit from sensory resources.

“It’s so encouraging to hear Oliver is enjoying using the equipment and his family can see the benefits already.”


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The pack has opened up a new world for Oliver, and has made the pressures of lockdown a little easier to bear.

“Oliver is a very happy little boy,” said Carol, 49. “He’s very active, loves to play, loves to learn and loves to have fun. He lives in his own little world, with little awareness of the world around him, which could become a problem in later years.

“If his day is structured and he has plenty to do and people to play with, he is really happy. Everyone who meets him adores him, and he has a fantastic family network.

“Due to lockdown, he has not been able to see lots of family members.

“He has cousins, and cousins of cousins who all want to see him and spend time with him – and he has a loving gran who makes sure that happens.

“I don’t know how he will evolve. That is one thing that keeps me awake a night.

“As I get older, and he gets older, or God forbid, I am not here – how will he survive?”

For more information about Caudwell Children, or to apply for a Get Sensory pack, visit www.caudwellchildren.com