How can you prepare an autistic child for the change in their routine?...

It is the time of year when anxiety increases the closer we get to the summer holidays; and that is just for the parents. Why is it that the children can't wait for the long holidays, yet the nearer they are the more concerned they get?

For children with autistic spectrum disorders, try to imagine the longest unstructured break time ever - not knowing from one day to the next what is going to fill the day, who is going to organise it and what will they do if nothing is organised. Further questions that may spring to mind are:

  • If something is organised, what are the plans?
  • What time do we leave?
  • How long will it take to get there?
  • What do I need to pack?
  • What will we do when we get there?

All these questions could be floating around silently or being asked a thousand times a day leading to increased anxiety in your child. So as parents, what can be done?

Visual, visual, visual

Our suggestion to parents is start a calendar for the summer holidays as soon as possible. Start by filling with the known activities - holidays, visits to and from family, dentist/doctor appointments etc. These could be visual pictures, words or both, depending on age and what your child processes better.

If you are going on holiday it may be worth while writing any questions down that your child asks, they can then refer back to that question and answer sheet when the questions pop up in their mind, also it will reduce anxiety just because they will be able to read it whenever they want rather than asking again and possibly creating anxiety (or annoyance) for you. For a more detailed look into going away on holiday take a look at Taking an autistic child on holiday: A parent's guide.

Once you have noted all the major events of the summer you can fill in the other days as and when - it does not have to be anything more than "a walk", "making cookies", "pyjama day", "ride your bike" or even "play your own games" day. Have fun with the calendar and note any repeated questions - this is likely to be a source of anxiety - and add them to the question and answer sheet.

Happy holidays!

By Sue Jarrett, Head of Pastoral Support, Unsted Park School

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