We all know that children like routine. And for a child with autism, school holidays can be quite hard work which inevitably means a challenge for the parents. Jude has been off school for three weeks over Easter because his old school broke up a week earlier than his new one…why couldn’t it be the other way round?! Anyway, this has meant I’ve been at home with Jude for three solid weeks but thankfully his beloved Granny and Grandad have come to my rescue and taken him out here and there. Elsa too – she was off baking a cake with Granny today and last week they went to the cinema and out shopping 🙂
Anyway, we’ve had a really cool time together which has surprised me as I was completely dreading it. Jude’s been pretty good, engaged with everyone rather than retreated and hasn’t had any catastrophic melt downs (yet) meaning we’ve all been fairly relaxed. I’ve been thinking about coping mechanisms and have come up with the following tips for surviving the school holidays when your child has autism. I’m using the Easter holiday as an example but most of these can be familiarised for any school holiday period.
- Pace yourself. Don’t plan the entire holiday out in one go, see what the mood of the camp is and then make short term plans dependent on how your child is feeling. Jude’s mood can fluctuate massively; this morning for example he was in an incredibly happy and social mood so could have coped with pretty much anything but a few days ago, I could barely get him out of his room.
- Set boundaries. Easter holiday for example – “Jude you will have one Easter egg today and then no more.” You know what he’s like with food but if he’s been told no then the obsession kind of gets out of his head and he moves onto the next thing.
- I didn’t do this but someone suggested to me colour coding Easter eggs! This wouldn’t work with Jude but a friend of mine does this and because an egg isn’t “his” colour then he won’t touch it! Sadly, Jude’s fascination with food exceeds his ability to comply with rules.
- If you have a big Easter Sunday lunch then don’t expect utter compliance from your child. I frequently have dramatic visions of us all sitting jovially around the table discussing the latest family news whilst sharing a meal together. It never happens. I now don’t beat myself up about this and accept that Jude is entirely overwhelmed by situations like this. If he wants to have some toast and go watch tv then it means he’s happy and therefore I’m not stressed.
- Safe spaces! Jude needs one no matter where we are. When we were glamping last week for example, his safe space was his bed. When we go to my parents house his safe space is the front living room. It just gives him somewhere to retreat when the holidays are too much and allows him the ability to take stock and rationalise everything we have just done. If you have lots of people over then it’s extra important that your child feels they are allowed to sneak off if they need to.
- Don’t overwhelm your child with three hundred Easter eggs at once (ok slight exaggeration). Jude’s eyes literally pop out of their sockets and he turns a bit manic when confronted with the opportunity to gorge himself on something he isn’t habitually allowed to eat. Same goes for Christmas presents, etc. If he’s given a massive pile of gifts all at once then he can’t cope, however stagger them across the day and he actually enjoys opening them and will sometimes look at them with interest.
- Schedule your time. I don’t literally mean a minute by minute analogue of what you have planned for the day but a simple visual of a selection of key events can really help. This is a clear example of “do as I say rather than as I do” because I haven’t done this once during the holiday. I’m going to make up some laminated images for the summer holidays though so Jude can see a “now and next” of each day. If he knows where we are in terms of the day then he can cope with situations a lot better. So for example, I will break down the morning with a “now” image of a swimming pool and a “next” image of a picnic. This way Jude doesn’t feel so overwhelmed with the enormity of a whole day.
- Ask people to visit you if the notion of going to other people’s houses is too much. Frankly, the thought of taking Jude to a friends house literally makes me shudder. However, I’m happy to invite people over to our house as I know Jude is comfortable, he won’t go off on one of his exploring stints searching out somewhere to retreat and he certainly won’t break anything I’m not aware of. It’s stressful enough socialising with children let alone a child with autism. People will understand, don’t feel embarrassed to explain the situation.
- Finally, don’t feel you have to follow a trend. If your child can’t cope with a certain aspect of Easter/Christmas or whatever then don’t do it. It’s your family and your special time so make it memorable with palatable elements the whole family will enjoy.
Think less stress. Whatever works for you and your family is perfect for your holiday time.