For families, the long summer holidays present particular challenges in maintaining skills, engagement and equilibrium for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Structure, consistency and a predictable day provide a supportive environment for the person with an ASD, but this may be tricky in the Summer break!The school holidays provide families with a respite from work, commuting, homework and everything else that makes up day-to-day living. You can wake up later (or sleep until noon!), eat breakfast in bed, actually watch the morning news (or cartoons), and then decide what the day may be. You might want to go to the park, go shopping, have a picnic, go for a bike ride, or simply stay in and read a good book.
If you are impacted by ASD however, it can be a little bit more stressful. Here are 5 things to consider when planning out your Summer break if you have a child with an ASD.
1. Establish structure
As routine and structure give way for the reckless abandon of the summer holidays, this can cause issues for children with an ASD. Typically, developing children are flexible enough to cope with a varied routine and day-to-day structure, but children with an ASD may not be so readily accepting of schedule changes or the removal of routine altogether. Keep this in mind when planning (or not planning) your summer break. Which leads me to…
2. Produce a holiday diary
The production of a holiday diary can be useful for all. Using the diary to book in special events will help children with an ASD have a forward view of the schedule for the summer break. For non-verbal children, including photographs or drawings can further increase understanding and can be very helpful.
3. Balance is key
Holidays can be really difficult for the child or young person with an ASD, especially where there are non-ASD siblings who want, or do not want, to engage in various activities over the holidays. The challenge for families is to balance the needs of their child with an ASD and the new found freedom from routine that their non ASD siblings relish. Striking a balance is integral to keeping all children engaged, anxiety free and happy over the summer break.
4. Be aware of the weather
Depending on where you live, it can also be very hot over the summer. Children and young people with an ASD often have sensory difficulties, and they may not recognise that they are hot and may be resistant to wearing cooler clothes. They may not be able to say that they are thirsty or not feel the need to drink. Ensure that any care givers are aware of this so that the child is kept well hydrated.
5. Caregiver awareness
You may have to work over the school holiday period, meaning that caregivers, such as grandparents, friends, other family members or babysitters, may be responsible for your child. Making sure that the caregiver is aware of any triggers, particularly embedded routines that the child or young person depends on, or any specific means of communication is extremely important in assuring that your child is properly cared for.