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Festive tips for parents of SEN kids

The festive season can be bewildering for many children with autism. The house is full of noise and people, the normal routines have been abandoned, and outings mean coping with crowds, lights, and unfamiliar sights and smells.

If your child has autism, the temptation may be to veto Christmas altogether, but when there are other children to think about, it’s not always that simple. Many parents talk about the pressures of juggling everyone’s needs, and trying to keep the whole family happy. Parents of children with special educational needs have been sharing their tips for surviving the festive season on Scope’s online community.

View the full list of festive tips from parents

Here's a small selection from the advice:

  • Create a plan
    Print off a week-to-view calendar page and add a picture of your planned activities during the Christmas holidays (divide into morning, lunch, afternoon, etc.) to help put your child at ease about the plans for the week.
  • Use the festive season as a teaching opportunity
    Help and encourage your child to give gifts. This provides an excellent opportunity to work on social skills, like thinking of other people's needs and interests, and being kind and helpful.
  • Create a Christmas-free zone
    Leave one room in the house, perhaps your child's room, free from anything to do with Christmas, so they can come back to the room as a 'safe place' when necessary.

A sensory retelling of the Christmas Nativity story

Ingredients for a sensory Christmas story - including wooden spoons, a torch, spices and a bowl of dry breakfast cereal.

What can you do with 2 wooden spoons, a torch, 2 jars of spices, a woolly hat and a bowl of dry breakfa

st cereal? Retell the Christmas Nativity Story of course! 

The video can be found on Hertfordshire libraries YouTube channel.

The idea is that children gather the suggested objects and then they can join in with the story using all their senses – wooden spoons for sound as Mary and Joseph walk (or ride) to Bethlehem, a torch (sight) for the star, spices to smell to represent Frankincense and Myrrh, something woolly to feel to remind them of the sheep in the fields, and dry breakfast cereal in a bowl to taste as the baby Jesus was laid in an animal feeding trough (manger).

Anyone can have a go at retelling this story or other traditional stories with objects found around the house that use all the senses.  This really helps children to engage with the story through the sensory interaction and is particularly good for children with additional needs.

It’s now easy to donate online to the library service. We are often offered donations of money by users who wish to show their appreciation for the service. Those who visit the library are able to do this in person. Now you can also support the library service by donating online

Karen Stephens, Hertfordshire libraries

Experts by Experience social media takeover: 11 - 15 January

Hi, Georgia and Chloe here – we’re 2 young people who are taking over the HAND Facebook page and @SENDHerts Twitter on behalf of Hertfordshire County Council, from 11 -15 January. We were chosen for the job as we both have SEN issues.

The idea was to create a better future for other young people using our own challenging experiences. We want to share the help and support that is out there for young people who are preparing for adulthood, especially as we didn’t know about all of it ourselves, on topics including transport, housing, health, loneliness and much more.

Look out for our countdown to the takeover on Facebook and Twitter, and please join us during the takeover, with your likes, comments and shares!

You can learn more about us on our introduction page of the local offer: 

One month to go until the experts by experience social media takeover

Healthy Start Food and Vitamins Promotion – great success but more to do!

Back in October, we told you about 'Healthy Start' vouchers, and we have an update for you:

As a result of our campaigning, in partnership with Early Years, health visitors and others, the number of families in Hertfordshire getting the vouchers has increased from 3,555 to 4,871 in just 1 month. As a percentage of those entitled, we have gone from being 10% below the national average in September to being 15% above it by November. We now have almost 66% of eligible households getting the vouchers they are entitled to. The annual gain in extra income for these families since September is over £300,000!

However, there are still one third of eligible applicants in Hertfordshire – around 3,000 families - missing out on approximately £200 a year each. Some supermarkets are also offering additional money off shopping for those using the healthy start vouchers in their store.

So, if you know someone who is at least 10 weeks pregnant or has a child under 4 years old, they could be entitled to Healthy Start Vouchers worth £3.10 per child per week (£4.25 per week from April 2021), to spend on milk, fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, and instant formula milk. You can also use them to buy pulses and certain canned fruit and vegetables.

Pregnant women under 18 years old qualify whether or not they are entitled to a qualifying benefit. Otherwise, to be eligible they should be in receipt of certain means-tested benefits. You can check eligibility on's Healthy Start website.

You can also use Money Advice Unit’s benefits checker on Hertfordshire County Council's website, and access free information about benefits you might be missing-out on.

SENDIASS/KIDS HUB consultation - where to now . . .

As you will know, we have been working very closely with Kids Hubs, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS ) and Herts Parent Carer Involvement (HPCI), to develop a single, improved SEND Information Advice and Support Service. 

The responses to the Spring consultation have been fully considered and a proposal to merge Kids Hubs provision with SENDIASS was agreed by cabinet last week. This means that the new, consolidated SEND Information, Advice and Support Service will go live 1st April 2021. 

 For many years Kids Hubs have provided support to a great number of Hertfordshire families with children and young people with SEND so we are pleased to confirm that the committed and knowledgeable Kids Hubs staff will be encouraged to continue to provide this support as part of Hertfordshire SENDIASS and support currently offered by Kids Hubs, which is outside the remit of SENDIASS, will be delivered by other existing services. Over the next few months we will continue to work with our partners to help families understand what these changes mean in practice and make sure that families know who to contact, and how, to receive free confidential impartial SEND related information, advice and support.


COVID-19 information for people with learning disabilities

Annual health checks for young people - your questions answered

Research shows this pandemic has made it more important than ever for people with learning disabilities to get extra help to stay healthy.

But currently only 53% of people with a learning disability get the annual health check they are entitled to. That's why Contact is urging families to ensure their child does not miss out.

Our health lead Amanda Elliot has put together some Frequently Asked Questions and Answers to help families navigate the registration and health check process.

Specialist nurseries survey

We are currently running a survey to determine the demand for specialist nurseries in the county. If you are a parent/carer of a child under 5 with SEND we would really like to hear from you. The survey should take no more than 5 minutes to complete and will inform the future development of this provision.

Complete the specialist nursey survey

The survey will close on 21 December 2020.

Thank you very much for taking the time to complete the survey.


15,000 children will be 'Making Time to Read' with their free copy of The Runaway Pea!

Hot off the press! Read the latest adventures of Pea in The Runaway Pea Washed Away available now in Hertfordshire Libraries.

Thanks to the charity BookTrust, all 15,000 reception class children across Hertfordshire received their very own copy of The Runaway Pea this autumn, as part of BookTrust’s annual Time to Read campaign.

The Runaway Pea, written by Kjartan Poskitt and illustrated by Alex Willmore (Simon & Schuster (UK)), is a fun story to read together, with lots of playful words in a lovely rhyming text. There are many things to talk about, from the detail in the pictures, to the range of emotions the pea experiences on his journey. Children of all ages will enjoy the story so to share in the giggles just

Click here to enjoy listening to Librarian Hannah read The Runaway Pea

Did you know just 10 minutes a day sharing books together can have a big impact on your child’s confidence and self-esteem? It helps children develop language skills and their imagination too. BookTrust have put together lots of top tips to help you feel more at ease when reading to your child and you can find them here:

Hertfordshire Libraries have thousands of books for families to borrow and it’s free to join.

Watch Hannah tell you more about the exciting things you can find in the library

 Watch for the video for children

 Watch the video for parents & carers



My Pet Star – free mini book from Hertfordshire Libraries

BookTrust has generously given Hertfordshire Libraries hundreds of My Pet Star mini books for us to give away.

This is a lovely, heart-warming story and perfect to share with young children during the darker nights. You can claim your free copy when you visit and borrow picture books from any of our Tier 1 or 2 libraries (while stocks last). These libraries are now open for limited browsing and you can find their revised opening times here.

Discover BookTrust HomeTime to hear author Corrine Averiss read My Pet Star - a magical treat for children and grown-ups. Then get creative with My Pet Star makes, bakes and rhymes. Find out how to make a star suncatcher or have a go and baking some Cosmic star cookies -yummy!


Contact Money Matters

Contact Money Matters is a free downloadable guide for parents and carers

The latest of their array of information guides for parents, the charity Contact has produced this Guide to Money Matters  which covers: disability and sickness benefits, carer’s allowance, universal credit, benefits if you’re out of full-time work, money and vouchers for having children, working tax credits, at school, help with rent, mortgage and council tax, transport, grants and loans and other help.

Find out about CONTACT here on their website.

Don’t forget, if you need any advice or support, CONTACT's free helpline is open between 9.30am and 5pm Monday to Friday. You can call on 0808 808 3555. They also have a Live Chat service so you can ask about your rights to services and support.

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