Sea, Sun, and…Meltdowns?
Is your summer holiday really a case of having no worries for a week or two? Or not…? If it sounds like the opposite of your experience, you are not alone. The summer holidays can bring a world of challenges to an autistic child, with a change of routine and different environments to cope with. But with a little planning, it is possible to make the holidays enjoyable for all the family.
I am not claiming to speak for all autistic people, but thought it might help to share how we prepare for the summer holidays in our autistic household:
1) Make the summer more predictable
About a month or so before the summer break starts, we draw a wall chart on an A3 piece of paper to show all the weeks of the upcoming holidays. Basically, it’s a calendar which spans more than one month. This way, we have an easy visual resource that we can look at to see what we are doing and when. As we have only one child, we ensure that only things that affect her are written onto the plan. That way, she knows what she will be doing. We also make sure that we consult her for ideas about what she would like to do, so that she feels that she has had a say in what we organise for her. This is crucial to her feeling as if she is being involved in the process , which reduces the chances of her reacting badly to an activity,
2) Write on it when you will be away and where.
If you’re going away for part of the summer, it helps to write that onto the chart so that your child can see when things will be different. We add where we are going and a minimal amount of detail, but you could add more if you think it would be helpful, such as your method of transport (if different from usual), or who will be going with you if there are additional family members coming. Anything that you can think of to make any upcoming changes easier to cope with.
3) Plan days of activity
We find that it is helpful to have at least two days a week where we have something planned. This could be a day out (it doesn’t have to be expensive – just a trip to the playground can be turned into an adventure if you bring a picnic and a frisbee), or it could be a day where you plan something together at home, like doing arty stuff or baking. Basically, writing down a planned activity makes a huge difference to us as it means that we know what to expect from that day. It helps me to redirect my focus away from mundane household tasks and engage in more fun activities.
Some of these days are ones which my daughter will spend in a local holiday club, which enables me to get work done or go food shopping (which I find far too stressful to get done when my daughter is with me, for various reasons). We have been lucky in that we have found one which is able to able to support her and which she feels comfortable to attend, even though she doesn’t usually know any of the other children or staff. As an autistic adult who needs alone time to recharge, these days are essential for my mental health as I find that the constant interaction having anyone with me 24/7 is too much for my brain to cope with, and I will become snappy and irritable if I haven’t been able to do some activities of my own choosing for weeks on end.
4) Plan rest days
Over half term, I made the mistake of planning activities on most days, which meant that by the time my daughter was due to return to school, she was tired from her busy holiday! It’s helpful for all autistic people (and probably for others too) to schedule some days to just mooch about at home and not have anything to do apart from eat and rest. We find that these days are as essential as the ones where we go out and do things. It’s particularly the case when we have been around other people a lot, as social interactions can be extremely draining. So I allow my daughter to stay in her pyjamas all day and play on her screens if that’s all she feels like doing – I just feed her at regular intervals and allow her to direct what she wants to do. Writing these planned rest days onto the schedule prevents you from accidentally filling them with other things.
5) Spend time with other families
I find that spending time with family or friends who engage with my daughter is a great way of giving myself a little break and giving my daughter a change of scene and change of company. It is helpful to find people who accept her just as she is, and not to feel I need to defend her around the sensory difficulties she has with food, and other things which are not widely understood about autism. We have also found some local charities which have play sessions and other activities for children with additional needs, which have been utterly fantastic for us. They are Incredible Kids, Extraordinary Links, and Gympanzees. I have found it so beneficial to look for support in the local area and to meet other families with children with additional needs. And of course, meeting other parents through our NeonDaisy Facebook group has also been extremely helpful as well.
Anyway, this is how we are planning to spend our summer. I hope that this might help you to plan yours too.
Laura Webb is a director of NeonDaisy