Today is one of my favourite days of the year…the first Saturday of June. This means it was Strawberry Fair! I have been to Cambridge’s Strawberry Fair almost every year since I was 18. When I was younger it was all about the music, having drinks with friends and exploring the crafts stalls (including finding some really unique clothes and getting our faces painted). As a Mummy its now more about the family fun. I still like to sit and listen to the music but instead of the alcohol I now explore more of the food stalls (lots of the food stalls), the craft stalls and the kids zone.
For J Strawberry Fair can potentially be a disaster for him due the challenges that Autism can present. It’s full of sensory experiences, people and a change of routine. However, with careful planning and preparation it can be loads of fun for him.
The day started with preparation. I ensured J had the beginning routine kept the same so morning TV and breakfast whilst I packed the bags. We looked at the visual timetable for the day so he could see we were going in the car, then a bus and then a festival. When I got myself ready J got upset over my makeup. I had my bright purple eyeshadow and my ‘out, out’ make up on which J doesn’t often see. He told me to take it off. I didn’t, I just gave him opportunity to adjust to it and he got over it…then stole my headband!
J was most excited about the idea of the double decker bus (park and ride). In fact the entire car journey to Cambridge was spent with the same question over and over….”is this the bus stop?”, “is this the bus stop?”. Driving on the A14 it was obviously not the bus stop but this was simply J’s mixture of anxiety and excitement combining.
When we got to the festival I put J in his buggy. Now he is 3 (nearly 3 and a half) we don’t always need the buggy. However, I knew that there would be crowds, a bag search and the shock of sudden noise so J needed a ‘safe space‘. J sat in his buggy with his ear defenders on whilst we got through security and into the site. He kept them on for a while as he looked around and acclimatised.
I made sure to get there as close to opening time as I know this is the quieter time of day. By 3pm the festival is in full swing and the crowds can get a bit manic. This meant that when we got there J had space to run around. He was running in circles which is something he does for the sensory stimulation. Basically, it makes him happy and feel in control. Every now and then he’d do a sort of running in circles, heavy metal rocker dance action to the music.
We had a look around whilst it was quiet(er-it’s a very popular event). I love the nature and wicca areas and always go through the summer solstice ‘doorway’ as that’s when I was born…always knew I was special. J liked to look at some of the crafts bits and wanted to touch them. However he didn’t want to join in with any of the activities like walking around labyrinth or face painting. That was a bit too much for him. He was starting to ‘flap’ and his eyes dart around with the start of ‘fight or flight’ so we then headed to the kids zone.
The kids zone is an alcohol free area and children must have an adult with them. The best thing about Strawberry Fair is that it’s FREE. You pay for the stalls and food but otherwise no cost. The kids zone is also FREE. J had a go on the bouncy castle (free), mini golf (free), crafts (free) and we watched a bit of the entertainer (Free). It was a great area which felt secure and kept the children interested.
I was extra surprised when J wanted to make a superhero mask. He used pens and wanted to add the jewels as long as I did the glue part. He told me it was Spiderman’s mask and he even wore it for a couple of minutes. This was amazing as J and crafts don’t usually go together. I think the fact the template were blank and obviously masks, helped rather than a crowded table of ‘stuff’. J prefers to have a clear ‘goal’ and direction.
To keep J safe he wore his safety key ring. This clips onto his trousers and has medical information (asthma and autism) as well as my mobile number. This means that if he got lost then someone can phone me and we would be reunited easier. The venue is HUGE and there’s a lot of distraction meaning there is a big risk of J running off, deciding to follow another family or getting separated. The use of the buggy and having two adults there minimises this but the key ring is just extra security for me.
The food at strawberry fair is amazing and there’s something for everyone…even fussy, sensory based eater J. There was vegan food, healthy food, treats and junk food. For me this is heaven. J had a German sausage (£4) and shared chips (£4) with me. I had bbq’d corn on the cob (£1.50) which was delicious. We then shared a huge slice of watermelon (only £1.50). J finished off with an ice lolly (£2.50). I didn’t pay a penny for drinks as we popped into Poundland on the way and brought 2 for £1 drinks. You are welcome to bring picnics and there’s plenty of space to layout a blanket (there’s rules about glass bottles and how much alcohol you can bring, but plenty of places to buy drinks). As I have been to Strawberry Fair before, I knew they’d be food for J. If it was our first time I would have packed J a picnic just so he had the security of food he recognised and would eat. A new environment is not the right time to try and broaden a sensory avoiders/fussy eaters palette. Not without meltdown and shutdown threat!
By 3pm it was getting busier and J was running more and more in circles, getting rather physical with me (climbing on me, throwing himself at me) and shaking his head a lot. These are all signs that say ‘sensory overload‘ so it was time to go. We all had an amazing time and we wanted to leave on a high note. When we got home we looked through the photos together. J had a huge smile. He had some chill out time to try and self regulate after our busy day. By bedtime J was shattered and went to bed happily, and fell to sleep within minutes.
We both look forward to next year!