THE festive season is full of excitement and fun for most, but for some families it can all get a bit too much.

So volunteers from a support group for parents of youngsters with sensory or developmental needs held their own Christmas party at Whitworth Hall Hotel, Spennymoor, yesterday – bespoke to their children's needs.

There was no visit from Santa Claus – instead he left a few carefully chosen gifts at the venue before the young guests arrived – and no disco with loud music and flashing lights.

Good food, soft play, sensory toys, quiet games and a bouncy castle for those who fancied it were enough to keep the children entertained while the grown-ups enjoyed relaxing with friends who understand their situation.

Organiser Heidi Smith, of Wingate, whose nine-year-old son Isaac has autism and learning disabilities, said: "A lot of children struggle to access Christmas parties, even in their own school environment. Some cannot cope with Santa and it can be stressful worrying who wins a prize in pass the parcel.

"My son hasn't slept more than three hours a night for a good week.

"It can all be overwhelming, which is why we brought families together with a sensory friendly event."

Organisers made sure the room could have just one open door to increase safety and guests had a schedule in advance so there were no daunting surprises.

The event was staged by The Sensory Room group, which was set up in September 2018 for families in County Durham, and supported with £250 from East Durham Round Table.

The group holds meetings and has a closed Facebook group, with 374 members, offering support and organising well thought out activities and outings.

Members hope 2020 will be the year it lays down roots, with plans to open its own volunteer-led sensory room in East Durham, hold training events such as Makaton and mental health first aid and events including a silent disco.

Angela McGinlay's youngest daughter Grace, seven, has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and is non-verbal.

Mrs McGinlay, of Shotton Colliery, said: "There is lots of autism provision now but still a lot of children with varying needs without places that suit them.

"At first we got together in pubs or with an occupational therapist to support each other and it is growing, we're seeking charitable status, should get our own place soon, will seek grants and plan to do more and more.

"Some great friendships have formed. Nobody really gets it unless you have a child with these needs, in this group nobody bats an eyelid whatever any child does and we all prop each other up."