Are we being ripped off as special needs parents?

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If there is one place where my children feel safe, relaxed and happy it is in a multi sensory room. The twinkling lights, relaxed ambiance, tranquility and sense of well being is totally priceless and it seems the manufacturers and providers of these rooms agree with me on that!
Did you know the average sensory room in a school or nursery costs upwards of £5,000 and this is just the basics!

I am in the process of building and equipping out a sensory room for my twins with autism and I sure don’t have that sort of cash in my back pocket. The reality is that due to the complex needs of both my children I am their full time carer earning a measly £62.10 a week in carers allowance. My maths is not brilliant but by my calculations it would take over a year and a half saving every single penny of that amount just to get the basic cost of a sensory room. They really need this now not in 18 months time!

So I started some research. Special needs parents are experts at research.

I took the top ten pieces of sensory or special needs equipment my children need and use on a daily basis and compared some prices. I was expecting some fluctuation in price due to suppliers, delivery and quality but my results shocked even me.

imageTake a basic 90cm tall bubble tube. This is one of the most basic pieces of equipment for any sensory room and many have several of these in, often much taller.
Where you aware these are actually readily available from many high street retailers and online suppliers for a fraction of the price of sensory sites?
eBay for example sells brand new bubble tubes for £24.99 while the equivalent from a specialist online sensory site was £49.99. That is a massive 100% price increase. While the quality may not be exactly the same the effect is.

On the same topic of lights my son is a huge fan of fibre optics. Large lengths of fibre optic lights amaze him but he is equally enamoured by a small fibre optic lamp. On Amazon I can pick one up for as little as £1.24 compared to a large national sensory site wanting £5.99 for the same item. That is a massive increase in price of 383%. It seems the minute you add ‘special needs’ or ‘sensory’ to an item you can get away with inflating the price beyond reason!

I then looked at one of the most common fiddle stress toys on the market for children: the tangle junior. This is a popular toy for children with autism and is often used in schools. They are available in high street stores but the cheapest I found was £3.15 brand new from eBay with free delivery. Compare that to the exact same one on a large sensory site for £5.99 with a staggering delivery cost of £10.80 meaning including delivery the price increase mounts up to an unbelievable 433%! I am beginning to feel ripped off here!

Surely the humble and well known slinky would prove me wrong? Sadly no! While I could easily pick up one in a high street shop for as little as £1 the cheapest I could find from a sensory special needs site was a whopping £4.80, which would you believe was an increase of 380%!

imageOne of my sons all time favourite sensory items is a space blanket. This is a silver blanket used in emergencies to keep warm but the noise, shiny texture and size makes it a common and long lasting sensory item. I could pick this up at a high street car accessory shop for just £2 but sensory specialist websites had the same thing for £4.50, more than double the price!

The kids need somewhere to sit and what better sensory way to do that than on a beanbag! They love them! On the high street from a catalogue company I can pick one up for £24.99 but the cheapest available from special needs sites was a crazy £144! That is a huge increase in price of 476%. That actually makes me feel sick!

A 12lb weighted blanket is approximately £70 on eBay brand new custom made while the sensory sites charge £192 for the same item!

A rainmaker toy can be bought on the high street from a well known early years children’s store for £6.99 while the sensory sites charged £13.95 for the same item.

Ear defenders, one of the most popular items bought for children with autism or sensory processing disorder are available on an online auction site from as little as £1.99 but the cheapest I could find from any special needs stockist was £9.

Finally for a red chewy stick used to support many children who seek oral stimulation I found one of the cheapest places was Amazon at £4.44 for one while the national sensory provider was £8.95 for the same branded item.

In total my basic list could be bought for £140.79 but for a dear as £439.17 an increase of 212%.

Some of you will argue that quality is worth paying for and that these may not be like for like products but in some cases the product was exactly the same brand and specifications!

I have no intention of wanting anyone to go out of business or for staff to not be paid a proper wage but I still can’t help feeling that special needs parents are being ripped off by sites adding the words ‘special needs’ or ‘Sensory’ to an item as a means of inflating the cost.

Of course no-one is making me buy any of these products, in fact you could argue they are luxury and not necessity. What is absolute necessity for my children though is nappies so you can imagine my delight when I discovered a discount supermarket had pull ups to fit my almost eight year old at the amazing price of just 10p a pull up! Topping up my NHS supply of just four a day using the same nappies provided by the NHS was coming in at 45p a nappy. That is quite a difference when you go through up to 20 nappies in a 24 hour period!

Special needs parents, do some home work. There is some amazing specialist equipment on these sensory sites that can not be bought elsewhere but don’t be fooled into thinking you can not find some products on the high street.

Don’t allow yourself to be ripped off!