A Sense Holiday helped social butterfly Orla to stretch her wings

Orla, 11, came on her very first Sense Holiday last year, and had an amazing time. Orla has CHARGE syndrome, which means she is deafblind – although she does have some vision, so she uses British Sign Language (BSL). She also has some difficulty with her balance, and eats her meals through a feeding tube. 

Usually, this means that Orla can’t go anywhere without her parents, but with Sense she was in safe hands. Here, mum Anna tells us all about Orla’s special holiday.

It was our first time sending Orla on a Sense Holiday, in summer 2023, so we weren’t sure what to expect. But the break gave her the chance to feel like any other 11-year-old girl. 

Orla enjoying being pushed in a swing by a Sense Holidays volunteer.

Sense Holidays are so important for families like ours. We can’t usually find childcare for Orla, or just send her to her grandparents, for example, because there’s a lot to think about. It’s a relief to know that there’s a service that can support us.

But most of all, it offers a priceless experience for people like Orla.

The world isn’t built for her, so it’s difficult for her to have experiences that other children get to have, like going on holiday with her friends.

On holiday with Sense, she got to spend time with her best friend, doing things she loves like painting her nails and exploring the forest – and to do it all without her parents around. It brought her into the world a bit more.

Orla was full of excitement as soon as we booked her holiday

In the build-up to her holiday, Orla was so excited she kept checking the date in the calendar.

She was doubly excited because she knew her family wasn’t coming with her – this was just her thing. 

Sense helped us to feel really confident about sending her away with them. They didn’t seem daunted by anything we talked them through, like Orla’s feeding tube. They’ve got so much experience. 

They also sent a little video of the accommodation for us to watch, so Orla could see it before the holiday. She loved watching that. 

The site had a little farm, with a trampoline and a playground in the woods. It seemed perfect for her. 

Getting to have a regular holiday experience was special for Orla

Friends Orla and Bethany wearing their raincoats and smiling while sitting on a bench in the forest.

The holiday itself was very chilled out. They spent time on the site, bouncing on the trampoline and seeing the animals. 

Orla loved doing everybody’s hair and nails, getting her face painted, and spending time in the big sensory room. 

But Orla’s favourite thing was just hanging out. Orla loves people. She’s really social, and she wants to chat to everyone she meets.

It was so special for her to spend time in an environment where lots of other people could sign. Usually, she can’t just go up to anyone and say what she needs or wants. 

She relies a lot on me and her dad to interpret for her. To have that easy communication without us was amazing for her.

She also had a best friend there on the holiday with her. Orla’s friend Bethany also has CHARGE, and we’ve kept in touch for years, but her family lives quite far away. 

On holiday together, Orla and Bethany got to share a room. They had a lot of fun, and it really helped their friendship. 

Usually, they have to rely on adults quite a lot. But they got to have a real sleepover without their mums around, just like any mates hanging out. 

It was really lovely, because Orla doesn’t normally get to do things like that. 

Her holiday experience has opened up Orla’s world

“She’s kept her photo diary of her holiday next to her bed, and she looks at it all the time. She’s always asking me, ‘Mum, can I go again next year?’”

Anna, Orla’s mum

When we went to pick Orla up from her Sense Holiday, she actually didn’t want to come home with us.

She’d had such a good time, she looked so relaxed and happy. It was lovely to see her like that.

Since coming back, Orla is definitely more confident. She’s really trying to be a bit more independent.

She’ll do things like getting her own food out of the cupboard ready for mealtimes, and putting herself to bed. She just feels a bit more mature.

She’s kept her photo diary of her holiday next to her bed, and she looks at it all the time. She’s always asking me, “Mum, can I go again next year?”

The Sense Holiday has given her so many happy memories.

In BSL, she told me: “I love holidays and I am starting to stretch and grow my wings and I love being independent from my mum and dad! I love spending time in a full signing environment.”

Help more children like Orla experience a Sense Holiday

This year, holiday applications increased by 30%. Sadly, it’s impossible to say ‘yes’ to every child who applies. 

That’s why every penny we receive from people like you is absolutely vital.