Aberlour Options respite service for families of children with complex learning or physical disabilities is one of the causes to benefit from The Herald's 2012 Christmas Appeal.

It runs facilities across Scotland which provide much needed breaks and support for people such as the Wilson family, who run a farm just outside Ayr.

Like many parents of children who are severely autistic, Judy Wilson clearly recollects a change in her son, Grant.

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"I remember the day I lost him. He was two and a half and had never spoken. But as our middle son Maxwell had also had delayed speech, we were not that worried.

"But that day Grant went into the kitchen and his sense of smell had become hypersensitive. He wouldn't eat and didn't pick up a spoon again."

A year later, he was diagnosed with profound autism, and his condition has changed the lives of all his family.

Sensory difficulties, including very sensitive hearing, make family outings difficult. Grant blocks his ears in crowds and trips to busy places – such as restaurants and shopping centres – can be next to impossible.

During a trip to Glasgow's Xscape complex at Braehead, Judy stayed with her other sons Maxwell, nine, and Boyd, 10, while Grant – who turns eight next month – sat in the car park with his father Rab.

"It has always split the family," Judy said. "It's divide and rule."

The impact a child with complex or profound learning or physical disabilities has on a family is significant. But it can be particularly hard on siblings, who can find their social lives curtailed or that they are simply sidelined.

Parents with major caring responsibilities can end up exhausted and unable to cope.

That's why the Aberlour Options service in Ayrshire is so essential. It offers overnight respite stays in a building that replicates a cosy family home in a quiet street in Prestwick for up to four young people with complex learning and physical disabilities at a time.

Currently providing a service to more than 40 local families, it is one of seven such centres the charity runs across Scotland. It also offers emergency respite for families under great stress.

Judy said the respite care for Grant means that once a month they can take Maxwell and Boyd "somewhere special". It also helps Boyd compete in the South Ayrshire swimming team.

She added: "When Grant goes to Aberlour Options, he runs in there. He knows the routine and he's happy for me to leave him.

"If he's away on an overnight it is fantastic just to wake up in the morning and know the big ones will sort themselves.

"It is brilliant, I don't know how we survived without it."