I love the school holidays. Generally. But I don’t just end up loving them by accident. Whilst I am grateful to be able to spend this concentrated time with my kids away from the pressures of school and routines, if I just winged it and let them pan out for themselves, they’d be hell. They only end up good through a whole heap of planning.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t micro-managing, and there will be plenty of time for exploring that delightful concept called ‘boredom’, but this is summer holiday in ASD-friendly style.
#1: Do Away With Routine, But Make a Routine
Whilst term time brings its challenges, one thing that’s largely beneficial with autism in the mix is routine. Everyone knows what’s expected and when, no nasty surprises. So although one of the best bits of school holidays is being able to throw that out the window, don’t give up on the concept of routine altogether. Make the days follow certain patterns if nothing else. A ‘Getting Up’ routine, a ‘Learning’ Routine etc, all come together to put a little structure around an otherwise bewildering timetable.
#2: Plan, Plan and Plan
Yes, your spontaneous nature just might have to take a backseat. Boo needs to know what is happening when if anyone wants to have a good time. Therefore I plan our holidays like I’m planning the Swiss train network. It will work, and it’ll work on time, dammit. With a reasonable amount of certainty, he knows what we’re doing, roughly, each week. He’ll know how often he can expect to see his best mate, and when it’s next happening.
That ASD quagmire – communication. But hot on the heels of planning comes the requirement to communicate this plan to the ASD kiddo (and any others in the mix). It’s no good it I know the routines, and I know the plan, and Boo is still as in the dark as ever. Therefore I take out shares in blu-tak and get sticking: routines, plans, checklists, sticker charts… they start decorating every available inch of wall space.
#4: Take Advantage of Time
With three kiddos in the mix, life can be a little frantic. Yet there are so many life skills that Boo doesn’t ‘just learn’ like other children. He needs to be actively taught these skills. Therefore the long school holidays get used as a valuable opportunity to dedicate to these life skills that need honing and practice. Whether that’s learning how to have a shower without sensory overload meaning you come out dirtier than you went in, or fine motor skills to use scissors, this is my chance to set the curriculum with skills specific to Boo, Bug and Pip.
#5: Set Expectations
Boo does best when he knows exactly what is expected from him. He doesn’t do well with bland statements such as “be good”. He needs to know what that means. Therefore this gets detailed, and communicated, so that there are as few ambiguities as possible.
#6: Don’t Slack on the Work
I have occasionally made the mistake of thinking it would be in Boo’s (and my) best interests to cut the learning requirements during the holidays. I quickly got proven wrong on that score because getting him to start again with the return of term time was like trying to push water up hill, near impossible. Therefore we keep things ticking over to a certain level over the holidays.
#7: Do the Unexpected
I aim to do one new thing per child per holiday – a totally new experience for them. Whether that is canoeing, wild swimming, horse-riding, camping out, or whatever. I choose one thing that is completely new, to broaden the horizons and keep things fresh. For Boo this is relatively easy as he’s an adrenalin junkie at heart, so we find something new in that department as he gets older and can do more. The sense of challenge, and subsequent achievement, is completely worth the while.
#8: Factor in Down Time
Whilst keeping busy is great, don’t forget to factor in the down time for everyone (and that golden opportunity to learn how to handle boredom). Six plus weeks is a long time to go full pelt, so get strict about not planning things on the down days not being tempted to fill the diary, and give time and space for endless bouncing on the trampoline, digging a hole with a stick, or watching a dvd with popcorn.
#9: Make Memories
I am a memory-maker, it’s part of my role as mum to Boo, Pip and Bug. Use the holidays to build the memories together, don’t be too busy planning the next thing, or running the house, to spend that time together. I go a bit loopy during the spring, working out as much of my summer holiday plan as possible, with the aim being that when the school gates are flung open, I have my ducks already in a row. I can hit the ground running and be fully engaged in the doing.
#10: Accept There Will Be Hard Days
Despite the best planning, ASD likes to throw curve balls. Six weeks is a long time, so be realistic: not every day will be sunshine and rainbows. In fact some days will have torrential downpours, and knowing Britain, we’re not just speaking figuratively either. Accept that those times will happen, you can get through them, and merely their presence doesn’t mean the whole holiday is a write off. Reward yourself as well as the kiddos, and you won’t just survive, your relationship with them with thrive.
What are you top tips for not just surviving, but thriving over the long summer holidays?