Whether its the Easter holidays, half term or Summer break, for many children, the idea of no school, teachers or homework for a few weeks, fills them with thoughts of joy and freedom. There are lie ins, spending more time with their friends and maybe travelling abroad with family to explore new sights and have fun. Parents are either delighted or overwhelmed by the prospect of keeping their kids busy over the holidays, but many are relieved about not having to do the ‘school run’ for a few weeks.
Now let’s take the school holidays from the perspective of a child with autism. Generally, change is not something a child with autism responds very well to. Transitions between classes, changes of teachers, arrival of weekends and even holiday periods can throw them into bouts of anxiety. A person with autism often benifits from secure structures and routines to help them make sense of their world. For many autistic kids, careful planning of each moment is vital, through checklists, discussions, modelling, verbal reassurance and visual timetables.
Extended Summer and Easter holidays present unpredictable changes to daily life of an autistic person. Their predictable 5 days at school and 2 days at home for the weekends with familiar faces and routines, are no longer in place. Instead, there’s potential uncertainty and confusion over what is going to happen, when, and why it will happen that way each day. There could also be social anxiety, with the child preferring to be alone during the holidays rather than interacting with new people, situations or venturing out of the house to experience a family activity. At times, holidays can be too much for autistic children, who just what to return to the ‘security blanket’ of feeling settled at school.
So what can be done to help support the autistic child and parent?
For the autistic child during the holidays, the days could ideally be as structured and as consistent as possible, with preparations made in advance to help the child process in their mind that the school year or term has ended. Easy said than done, I hear you say…
First, by keeping a visual diary, timetable or calendar of events/pictures for each day and talking through how the child may be spending the holidays, it can help them process the changes. Making a holiday diary could also be reassuring for the autistic child due to them methodically and creatively documenting their holiday activities by drawing pictures, writing about their activities, sticking in tickets and photos from events; which can enhance motivation and help ease anxiety about being on holiday.
Relaxation tools can be used to help aid anxiety, particularly sensory integration techniques like Deep Pressure Therapy which offers tactile sensory input; calmly talking with the child about their feelings with simple visuals to represent their emotions; kids yoga or light walking; and mindful meditation with deep breathing. Also, collaborating with the child to hone in on their interests during the holidays can help focus the child on the present moment, despite the changes.
Another good step would be talking to the school SENCo, Transition Manager or class teacher about making a transition Social Story to assist the autistic child in coming to terms with the end of term/year transition, the school closing over the holidays and if relevant, inform the child about their new school year (e.g. new classroom and new teachers). Bear in mind that the Social Story could be made by the parent, but essentially should make use of consistent language the child can easily understand, be short, positive and offer clear reassurance that it’s okay to have feelings about the changes.
With all this said, in life, change is inevitable and practically unavoidable, whether it’s during the holidays or at school, so children and adults with autism do experience many difficulties trying to make sense of the world around them. With the right care and understanding, autistic children and adults can be supported. By tailoring the tools above, it can help any child who finds change difficult, process life’s ups and downs. I have been lucky enough to use and create some of these tools, and over time witnessed autistic children persevere and gradually start to let go of some of their anxieties relating to the holidays and learn to realise that change is a part of life.
Wishing you a creative, inspired and light-hearted holiday season.
Miss H ♥