James enjoying time on the drums on holiday at Hartlands, Isle of Wight - Specialist Autistic Holiday Centre
We’d been wanting to take James away on holiday for a while. Actually since before Covid struck the first time around. We used to take the boys away on holiday every year when they were younger and it often involved a caravan or lodge on a site and a couple of times we took them to Florida. Most often though for convenience it involved self-catering accommodation as this was easier to manage with James. Holidays have always been pretty stressful as James wasn’t really interested in doing the same things as Harry and taking James out of his normal routine and familiar surroundings always presented some issues. As James has got older and become a lot more vocal it has become more difficult to manage his meltdowns publicly. You’re always anxious too that his noise alone would be an issue for other people hence hotels are out of the question if we want to be able to relax at all. 
Pre covid we had been looking online for somewhere suitable to take James. At 22 years old his brother Harry no longer wants to holiday with the 3 of us ☹. Searching online we came across somewhere called HARTLANDS on the Isle of Wight https://spectrumbreaks.co.uk/ . What attracted me to this was that it advertises itself as being ‘For a holiday where Autism is understood’. In a past life HARTLANDS has evolved from a private home to a B&B to a hotel. Having closed as a hotel in 2011 it has since been renovated into an Autistic Holiday Centre. 
HARTLANDS is a large Victorian property situated on the South Coast of the Isle of Wight in Shanklin. Within the main house there are 4 autism friendly fully equipped luxury self-contained apartments. The apartments range in size and sleep between 3 and 8 people. Each has a fully fitted kitchen and comfortable lounge. All bedrooms have en-suite bathrooms with either a large shower or roll top bath. The selling point of this place is the other facilities that are on offer to you which may otherwise be difficult for you to access with your autistic family member. Other rooms on the ground floor house a music room, games room, sensory room, art room, cinema and IT room. There is also an indoor heated salt water pool, sauna and gymnasium. There is no additional charge to use any of these facilities whilst I feel I must say at this point that it is not inexpensive to stay here. 
On arrival we were met by Sam, who with his partner, are the on site managers and he gave us a quick viewing of the apartment and told us everything we needed to know and gave me his contact number. Also checking if there was anything else we needed I requested a stair gate to put on James’ bedroom door which Sam soon had in place for us and then left us to unpack and settle in. 
Our Apartment 
We stayed in the Isaac Studio. It has 3 bedrooms and sleeps 6 people. There was only the 3 of us but we chose to book a larger apartment which obviously was a bit pricier for a couple of reasons. The first being that the smaller apartment for three people had both en-suite showers and James isn’t too keen on a shower, he prefers a bath. There is only one sofa in the lounge area in the smaller apartment and I thought this might be a little snug for 3 of us. Also, what would be James’ bedroom had just a single bed as you might expect but knowing James I predicted that he may have some trouble settling to sleep in a strange place and that one of us might need to stay to settle him or sleep in with him and so an extra bed for one of us would be helpful. The Isaac Studio also had its own outdoor space as it had a large wrap round balcony with doors from the bedroom and kitchen/diner. 
The apartment was large and clean. It had some really good features, the lighting in the hallway area was motion activated and there was subtle lighting elsewhere. The kitchen was very well equipped and had absolutely everything you could need including a welcome pack with the basics including coffee, tea, milk, tea towels, bin bags, washing up liquid, kitchen roll and hand sanitizer. The kitchen door could also be locked if it was necessary. The front door and the doors from both the kitchen/diner and bedroom onto the patio area also had keys which were positioned on high hooks. The bathrooms were clean and provided sufficient towels, toilet rolls and hand soap. 
We fully expected that things might be a little stressful at times. That is life with James I’m afraid to say. Obviously going to the Isle of Wight was going to involve us going on the car ferry. We had purposely booked a lunchtime crossing both ways so that we could give James his lunch on the ferry hoping this would keep him occupied. Having picked James up from his house on the morning we were leaving, the first challenge was going to be waiting in the queue for the ferry. My regular readers https://ourlearningdisabilitiesblog.co.uk/ will know that waiting in the car is not something James finds easy at all. James became distraught the moment we stopped in the queue to book in at the ferry terminal. Fortunately, we were beckoned through to go on the earlier ferry. James was no problem on the ferry at all if a little confused by getting out of the car on a boat and going upstairs he didn’t show it and coped well. We gave him his lunch as planned and read some books to keep him occupied. The down side to getting on an earlier ferry was that we had 2 hours to kill on the other side before we could check in to our apartment at 3pm. 
Having stopped at Ventnor for a walk with James we had a drive around and parked up at Shanklin. James isn’t usually happy to get out of the car again, once hes had one walk that’s it!! Whilst Darryl grabbed us a takeaway coffee I got in the back with James to occupy him as he was already getting upset. I had bought a folding laptop holder from Amazon for the back of the drivers seat with the idea that I would be able to sit and do puzzles with James when needed. As you can see it worked perfectly for the purpose I had intended. 
It has been several years since we had been to the Isle of Wight. I had forgotten that you don’t really get anywhere fast and this was compounded by the amount of roadworks and traffic lights. This was a very big issue throughout our holiday and sadly was the cause of many a meltdown. As expected, the first night I put James to bed he immediately got up and so I stayed and laid on the other bed in James’ room and closed my eyes not engaging with him and he soon fell asleep. We decided though that Darryl was going to stay and sleep in there with James. We were concerned that if James woke in the night he may be upset finding himself alone in a strange place and we didn’t want him to get up and wander and hurt himself. A small night light may have been helpful as the room was very dark. We had taken our monitor from home too but there was nowhere without moving furniture around to plug this in and so we felt happier that Darryl slept in there with James. The first morning James woke very early and got up but generally on the other days it was around 6am and Darryl tucked him back in and he dozed for another hour or so. 
What Did We Do? 
Unfortunately, the weather gods weren’t with us on our first full day. But we stuck with our plans and headed off to the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary. James wasn’t in the best of moods so a lot of encouragement was needed. However, after we took refuge in the café and he had a large piece of lemon cheesecake ( and half of mine too!! ) he perked up as had the weather and so we had another walk around before leaving. 
Later in the day we made use of the pool. You can book hourly slots so that you have sole use of the pool which is lovely. Staff met us there to give us a brief run down on the necessary health and safety rules, ensured we were happy with everything and left us to it. It was all nice and clean, there were a few balls and noodles to use and music playing which you could select and change if you preferred. James has his own unique way of swimming in a sit up fashion but he is fully proficient in getting himself around in the water and happy to venture into the deep end. There were good wide steps with a handrail to enter and exit the pool. You could take your own towels to the pool or hire some there but at an additional cost. 
After booking, I had asked HARTLANDS if it would be okay if James’ Grandparents came over for the day if it would be okay to bring them back to the apartment for lunch as this is easier for us than eating out. They were very happy for us to do this. So, on Tuesday Grandma and Grandad did get the Hovercraft over for the day and we drove down and picked them up. We didn’t tell James beforehand just in case for any reason plans had to change at the last minute. Grandma and Grandad were just walking out of the ferry terminal as we arrived and James was very excited to see them. Having driven to a viewpoint for a coffee and a walk we did then go back to our apartment. James had Grandma and Grandad busy doing puzzles of course before lunch and then later we drove back and had a walk and an ice cream before leaving them at the hovercraft terminal for there return. 
Unfortunately the weather forecast for Wednesday wasn’t good in the morning so we opted to book the pool for another swim, lunch in the apartment and go out in the afternoon. Having done just that again with the weather improving for us we headed off out to explore the other side of the Island. James was really struggling spending time in the car and having to wait in traffic so this wasn’t easy. We did get out for a walk but James didn’t want to walk far and after a huge meltdown we made our way back to the car. We managed to park up at a viewpoint and get a coffee and I gave James some cake we’d taken out with us for an afternoon snack which kept him occupied for a little while at least. 
On Thursday morning we were due to pack up and leave HARTLANDS. Having said our goodbyes we set off for a drive with time to kill before our ferry. Again James was finding being in the car very difficult so we eventually parked up near the ferry port and I clambered in the back of the car and got out the all too familiar puzzles and books to occupy him. When we did arrive at the terminal James immediately became very distressed but luckily we were waved through onto an earlier ferry. James was fine on the ferry, we had an early lunch and he was happy to look at his books and people watch. 
Since James had moved into his own flat last year this was the longest he has been with us and away from his home. I had been concerned as to how he would be when it was time for us to drop him back home and leave him. I shouldn’t have been. He was fine, I think he was almost happy to be back to the security and routine of his own home. 
Our Overall Experience 
HARTLANDS is a lovely facility. There was an awful lot there that we unfortunately didn’t make use of. We did try. We took James around and showed him the sensory room, music room, garden etc. He wasn’t really interested. I thought he would love the drums but he only had the briefest go on them. We also didn’t get to use the balcony at all, James wasn’t keen to go out there and he went to bed late and by the time I settled him it was too late for us to be out there too. We had a four night break from Sun to Thurs. We booked our own ferry from Portsmouth but I believe HARTLANDS can book this for you if you wish to travel from Southampton. 
When I booked out holiday staff at HARTLANDS emailed me asking if we had any special requirements that they could help with that would make our holiday easier. They were always helpful and responsive when I emailed them to ask questions. 
I really wanted James to enjoy his holiday. He didn’t appear to enjoy it as much as I’d have liked which did make me sad because as hard as it was and I wish he hadn’t got so upset on so many occasions, I enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with him. It’s so often the case though, we want to do things, normal things that we enjoy but in reality, who are we doing it for. Ourselves? Is it just to much to take James out of his normal routine and expect him to cope with that, maybe it is. 
If you’d like to look at HARTLANDS yourself you can find them online at www.spectrumbreaks.co.uk 
Or on Twitter @spectrumbreaks or Facebook facebook.com/spectrumbreaks 
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