Business owner Susan Robinson lives in a land of make believe for a living – but undergoing autism training was a reality not a fantasy.

Susan wanted all her staff to be trained in autism awareness to make her play centre for children more accessible for youngsters on the autistic spectrum.

Land of Make Believe at Portrack in Stockton has a series of themed play areas for children from birth to the age of seven with a coffee shop, construction site, vets, dressing up area and woodland area plus a comfortable coffee shop where parents can relax and keep an eye on their children.

After spending over 19 years working in school environments, Susan understands the importance of making her venue as accessible as possible and now holds an autism friendly session every Tuesday evening.

Susan says, ‘I was aware how much children develop and learn through play and role play and there was nothing like this on Teesside. However, it is important not to over stimulate children so we painted the walls white and moved away from too much colour.

‘On our Tuesday autism friendly sessions, we turn off the music, dim the lighting, turn off the hand dryers in the toilet and reduce the numbers of children. It’s amazing to see how children learn through play so it was important to me make the Land of Make Believe open to as many families of young children as possible.’

Susan’s own son Buddy is just three and her Godson is on the autistic spectrum so she has a good understanding of what is needed but says the Daisy Chain Autism Awareness Training made a huge difference to her and her seven staff.

‘I knew about Daisy Chain because of my Godson attending so it was my first port of call. Before I opened Land of Make Believe I went to Daisy Chain to consult with parents about what I could do even before we opened to make sure the facility would be as autism friendly as possible.

‘Some of the staff come from an education background so do know something about autism but once we were up and running we still went a step further undertaking the autism awareness training. I wanted to ensure we all had that more in-depth knowledge and understanding of autism so we can be as supportive as possible.

‘Even those of us who thought we knew something about autism found it incredibly helpful to learn from Daisy Chain as the experts in the field. The training really makes you question and think about what you are doing, how you are doing it and how you can make a big difference with a few adjustments as to how you operate.

Land of Make Believe opened in December 2018 and has been going from strength to strength since – popular with parents as well as childminders who can take groups of children and it can also be hired for private parties and exclusive group use sessions.

Susan’s future plans include installing a sensory room which will create a space to chill out for children if they become overwhelmed by the environment and need to relax.

‘I understand how difficult it can be for families with an autistic child to access mainstream environments and I wanted Land of Make Believe to be as inclusive as I can make it.’

For further information on Land of Make Believe visit the Facebook page

For information about Daisy Chain Autism Awareness Training please visit the training section of our website /autism-awareness-training


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