Tips to make the holidays less stressful, and more enjoyable for your child with autism!
Ahhh… the long-awaited summer holidays are here, and I think it’s safe to say that it creates as much anxiety for us as parents, as it does for our children on the spectrum! This year, the pressure of simply having a present wish-list was too much for my son, and it made me realize how real this anxiety can be.
While it’s mostly an exciting day, some children may feel high levels of anxiety and sensory overload, not to mention all the well-meaning relatives looking for hugs and kisses! Personal space people! Personal space!!
- Create a schedule
Creating a schedule will help relieve any anxiety and address any unknowns! It doesn’t mean that you have to have a fun-packed day of activities every day, but to avoid any anxiety around not knowing what’s happening today (hell, most of us can’t remember what day it is during the break!) a schedule might be helpful for everyone. A schedule can be easily created using photos from your phone or iPad if you need to include pictures of places or people, apps, or a simple list if your child can read. You can include the times of the day in which things might take place and tailor this to meet your child’s level of development and understanding. This is a great way to be organised and helps with supporting mums to be one step ahead!
- Help other’s to understand why you need to plan
If your holidays involve seeing people who you and your child don’t see often, set some expectations and boundaries around what they might expect from you and your child that day. For example, ask them to stagger any presents, perhaps have a shorter visit, or simply allow you to leave if it’s not going well. Let them know that your child may not want to eat their precious Christmas feast, or sit at their carefully decorated table! Tell them that you’re focusing on making the holidays and visits meaningful for your child so they don’t continually ask them if they want to eat turkey and come to accept that chicken nuggets can be joyful too!
- Create a safe space
Whether you’re at home or somewhere else, give your child an area to retreat and take a break. The holidays can be overwhelming with crowded houses, and lots of people expecting affection from your child. It helps to relieve any stress or pressure by creating a safe break-out space for your child to use when festivities are overwhelming. As soon as you can, show your child where the space is, and place some support tools there (anything that addresses sensory needs, or comfort items) so they know where to go. Look for the signs you know about your child, and try to take them to the break-out space before things become challenging for them.
- Keep some familiar routines
Keep some of their everyday routines in place to give your child a sense of predictability and sameness. Examples might be times they get dressed in the morning even if they’re not going to school, times to eat, or the time they go to bed. The rest of the day may be hard to manage during holidays but keeping things as normal as possible can be helpful.
- Focus on keeping the holidays a success for your child – so that every year can be just as enjoyable.
Putting these strategies in place will support your child to have positive experiences during the summer holidays as each child should!
REMEMBER: YOU KNOW YOUR CHILD THE BEST! DO WHAT YOU THINK MIGHT WORK, AND IF IT DOESN’T, DECIDE TO EITHER TRY AGAIN OR THROW THE TOWEL IN! IT’S ALL YOUR CALL!
Cindy is a mother to a 10-year-old boy with autism, and Founder of The Sycamore School – a specialist school for children with autism in Brisbane. She is a published author, speaker and cancer survivor! Cindy has received an Australia Day Local Hero Award for her work in establishing The Sycamore School, and now supports organisations to become more diverse and inclusive.