A GROUP of children diagnosed with autism was said to be “deeply upset and disappointed” when a specially arranged swimming session at Hereford Leisure Pool was cancelled due to a bookings’ mix up.

The National Autistic Society’s Herefordshire branch has expressed frustration not just because the planned visit fell through due to an error in registering the private session, but also at what they claimed was a lack of understanding of the disability.

In a letter to parents and carers, the branch committee described the “extraordinary anxiety” that this “disappointment and disruption” caused the children.

Speaking on behalf of the branch, Sarah Gillie said members had made numerous phone calls to staff at the leisure pool and to Halo’s head office after learning their session was cancelled.

“It was more than 24 hours before someone said they acknowledged there had been an error,” she said. “In the meantime we made countless phone calls but they refused to engage.”

“We were offered an alternative session but what they don’t understand is that the children can’t just switch off, they need to know somewhere is safe.

“Now they feel they’ve been let down and although they’ve been offered an alternative session, that faith is lost.” She felt that a letter of apology from Halo was not enough.

“It was just two sentences long, saying terribly sorry and offering us another slot, but showing no understanding of the effect this has had.”

The branch had conducted an online survey earlier this summer to find out the kinds of autism-friendly activities enjoyed by the children. The “overwhelming” favourite was swimming, so a ‘party’ session was booked for September 24. A representative of the branch offered to pay a deposit to secure the booking, but was told this was unnecessary for a charity.

In a statement a spokesperson for Halo said they prided themselves on making children’s visits special.

“We were, then, hugely disappointed to discover a clash of bookings and some unforgivable confusion at Halo that caused one group to have to cancel their swim party.

“We understand this not only caused huge inconvenience to those planning to attend, but an enormous amount of disappointment and some distress, too. As a social enterprise and charity we do all we can to get more people more active more often especially those who may find taking part in exercise a bit more of a challenge.”

She added: “We are now liaising with the team who run the NAS branch to rebook the party and to see how we can go some way to compensate for this mistake, and we are - with our centre team who were gutted and highly embarrassed by what had happened - reviewing our party booking policy to ensure this kind of error doesn't happen again.”