Advice for Children with Autism and their Families over the Summer Holidays

During the summer holidays, many families are looking forward to moving away from the routine and consistency that school provides. As schedules are interrupted and routines broken, families of children and young people with autism can find it challenging. Each child has unique strengths and needs. With a little preparation, holiday stress can be reduced. Here are some practical tips on supporting children and young persons with autism who are facing changes in routines during the summer break.

Preparation is crucial for children and young people with autism. When a new event or outing is coming up, you can:
Use a calendar: a visual aid showing when an event is scheduled can be used to prepare your child. It is important not to plan too much in advance. For some children, a few days’ notice makes all the difference. For others, a few hours’ notice is required. Either way, talking about an upcoming event in advance greatly reduces anxiety, and supports the transition to a new environment.
Use visual aids: these can support communication regarding routines. You can use them in your own home or when planning trips outside the home. Depending on your child, visuals can include drawings, photographs, and pictures on phones. It is important to consider your child’s attention to detail, as the picture you use might be different to the actual place, which can cause upset.
Tell a story: developing social stories can assist your child’s understanding, and prepare them for an upcoming event or outing.

If visitors are calling to the home or if you plan to go visiting other people’s homes, you can:
• Show photos in advance of relatives and visitors who will be calling in during the holidays.
• If your child struggles in noisy or busy environments, find a quiet go-to place within your home or wherever you are visiting.
• Have games, activities or favourite toys on hand.
• Prior to visitors calling in, consider possible triggers to a meltdown. Some of these can be sharing of toys, other children using their belongings, and noise levels. Preparing for such situations can reduce anxiety for your child.
• Having to interact with visitors might lead to meltdowns. When visitors are coming to the home, it is sometimes best to follow your child’s lead.

If you are holidaying away from home or flying abroad for holidays, you can:
• Have your child’s favourite foods, books or toys available during the car journey or flight
• If flying, check if your airport has a Special Assistance Programme. Many Irish airports have developed visual schedules on their websites, and have special assisted processes to support the transition through the airport.

The key message is: plan in advance. Preparation is key to success during the holiday season. Remember the words: First, Next, Finished. These provide a structure and sequence to activities. Identify your child’s triggers and prepare a plan, should your child experience a meltdown or a sensory overload. Check Autism parent forums on Facebook and Irish Autism websites for Autism-friendly days at various locations around town. Finally, focus on the successes, and celebrate them!

This article was contributed by a member of Parenting Limerick.