Good Causes

Hanging out at Derby youth club helps Leland find his feet

Meeting new people and trying to make friends is difficult for many young people. But for Derby teenager Leland Franklin it was close to impossible.

Leland, 16, who has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and sensory processing disorder, found regular sports clubs and youth groups didn’t meet his needs. His mother, Zoe, said, “He’s always struggled to access things. With sports clubs he’s always got himself kicked out because he can’t cope with the situation. We were always looking for something that suited him.”

The classroom can also be challenging for Leland. Zoe said, “Autistic children are very good at what they call ‘masking’. They want to act ‘normally’, but all the struggles they feel inside causes them massive stress and anxiety. As soon as they feel safe they explode and have a massive meltdown.”

Things took a turn for the better when Zoe learned about a youth club run by Umbrella, a National Lottery-funded project in Derby. It provides support to children and young people with any additional needs, including physical, sensory, learning and behavioural disabilities.

When Zoe took Leland to his first Umbrella youth club session about 4 years ago, she was amazed at how quickly he settled in. She said, “Normally, when we take him somewhere new he doesn’t want to go in, or he sits right by my side. When we went to Umbrella for the first time I completely lost him and could hear him just laughing and having the time of his life. He said ‘I’m definitely coming here,’ which was a massive change to anything he’s ever done before.”

Leland agrees the Umbrella youth club is radically different to anything he had tried previously. He said, “I walked in and instantly clicked with some of the others. Starting friendships is something I struggle with, so I thought ‘this is nice’.”

What was so different about the club? Leland said, “Everyone else is similar to me – we all have additional needs. It’s a safe place. With previous places there were people who weren’t autisitc, or didn’t have ADHD or sensory processing disorder and I found I just clashed with them.”

Nowadays, Leland wouldn’t miss one of the youth club’s 2-hour Tuesday evening sessions. Activities include film screenings, cooking and all kinds of games. Invited speakers have discussed topics such as extremism and consent and there are off-site trips to the movies, crazy golf and bowling.

A particularly important aspect of the youth club is the fact it keeps running during school holidays, allowing members and their parents to maintain a routine. Zoe is also full of praise for the youth club’s staff who allow her son to “say what he needs to say” and can recognise the cues if “he’s starting to lose it”.

She said, “You always want your children to have opportunities and we’ve tried so many different clubs and it’s never worked. For him to feel he has friends and to feel he can be himself is really fantastic.”

12th October 2022

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