School holidays are usually a time to look forward to – a time for families to come together and wind down after a busy half term of lessons, after-school clubs, and so on. However, for families with an autistic child (or more!), school holidays can actually be a time to dread rather than anticipate with excitement.
The problem is, school holidays bring a break from routine. And routine is usually all-important for our children. A similar thing happens at weekends, albeit on a smaller scale. We often have problems on Monday morning when Tink realises she has to go to school, but it’s usually fine again by Tuesday or Wednesday. Routine is familiar. Routine is safe. A week, two or even six weeks break from routine feels very disorientating for a child on the autism spectrum, causing raised levels of anxiety, but there are some ways we can help make it easier for them.
How to prepare your autistic child for school holidays
Use a visual countdown. The use of visuals for children with autism should never be underestimated! Being able to see exactly how many days are left until the holiday begins can be useful to help children understand that a change is coming, giving them time to process what’s happening.
Click on the picture below to download your FREE printable version of my countdown chart! Let your child add a sticker to each day so they can see when the holiday arrives.
2. Plan ahead. Involve your child (where possible) in deciding what to do in the school holidays and, if you’re sure you will be able to carry it out, plan ahead. Of course, your child might be going to a holiday club, or a relative’s house for the duration, and this might minimise the anxiety somewhat, as it may already be familiar and involve some sort of routine. However, if you plan to have days out, or even if you’re staying at home, it can help to make a visual timetable of what to expect. Use photographs of attractions or places you’ll visit and, if it’s somewhere you’ve never been before, check to see if they have any accessibility information on their website to help plan your visit.
3. Try to keep to a routine. Getting up at the same time as you would on a school day, eating breakfast and getting dressed at the same times will help your child to feel more secure, reducing the anxiety they may feel before the main part of the day.
4. Decompression time. If you are planning to have days out, try to leave a day or two in between to allow for some decompression time and reduce the overwhelm that new places, travelling and a total change of routine can bring.
5. Keep structure. If you’re staying at home, try to have a reasonably structured day, similar to school. It’s so easy to just chill out and let your child do their own thing, but this will make going back to school much more difficult at the end of the holiday. If you can, try to plan set activities during the morning and afternoon, with a break for lunch in the middle.
6. Be flexible. This is where you need to be in tune with your child’s needs, especially if they lack the ability to communicate these effectively. Although planning ahead can be really useful for helping children understand what’s coming up, parents still need to be aware of how their children are coping with the changes. If you think your child needs an extra day at home, you might have to shelve that visit to the theme park. Conversely, your child may need some additional sensory input, so an impromptu trip to the trampoline park may just work!
7. Try to schedule time for you. If you’re spending the whole of the holidays with your children, it’s important that you get some time to yourself. Let’s not beat around the bush – parenting full-time is hard enough, and throwing conditions like autism and ADHD into the mix make it even tougher much of the time. If you are able, try to make sure you get a little time to yourself every day or two. Even if it’s just a nice soak in the bath, or a walk around the block to get some fresh air, it will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next challenge!
And, of course, don’t forget to prepare them for going back to school after the holiday is over! This will be made easier if you’re using a visual timetable, as your child will be able to see the holiday days counting down.
I hope you find these tips on how to prepare your autistic child for school holidays useful? Do you have any tips for making transitions between school and holidays easier? Share them in the comments!
If it’s going back to school that your child struggles with, I have some strategies for you to try to make returning to school after a break a little easier!