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Top tips to help parents of autistic children to navigate the summer holidays

By Stephanie Smith, deputy headteacher at The Cavendish School

The summer holidays are a welcome opportunity to escape the routine of term time for many children and their families. For autistic students, however, the structured school schedule offers them a routine, which enables them to feel safe and engage effectively with their daily activities. So, changes to your child’s daily structure, such as the extended break between the summer and autumn term, can be disorientating and overwhelming for them.

Stephanie Smith, Deputy Headteacher, The Cavendish School (58145784)
Stephanie Smith, Deputy Headteacher, The Cavendish School (58145784)

By spending some time preparing for the holiday period, you and your child can explore coping strategies and therapeutic interventions to help them navigate the changes in their daily routine. Autism Spectrum Disorder presents differently in every child, so different coping strategies will suit different children and your preparations should be tailored to your own child.

Replicating routines

Children with autism often experience high levels of anxiety and changes in their routine can exacerbate this. By discussing the summer holidays with your child, you can help them to prepare for the change by allowing adequate time for them to ask questions about upcoming events. Incorporating elements of a familiar routine can also help your child to manage their feelings of anxiety.

So you might, for example, continue with the same morning routine that you and your family have during term-time; plan your day using similar timings to the school timetable; or incorporate elements of learning into their daily routine. At The Cavendish School, we have a number of online resources to help support your child’s learning if you want to replicate the classroom environment during term-time.

The countdown is on

Sequencing can be challenging for autistic children but visually identifying a logical order of activities can support their understanding. You can create a visual countdown to the beginning of the summer break on their calendars and creating a visual schedule of your whole family’s daily activities can be helpful too.

In addition to a visual countdown, you may also find it helpful to use a visual aid, such as an image-based calendar, or colour-coded activity planner, during the day to help your child to distinguish between different activities and reinforce the passage of time. By distinguishing one activity from the next, your child will have clear transition stages to help them process their schedule. Using an hour glass, large clock face or picture cards are all simple ways to support sequencing.

Sensory regulation

At The Cavendish School, our students start their day with sensory circuits to help them self-regulate and prepare for their day ahead. By allocating time for sensory activities into your child’s daily routine, you can support them with their self-regulation and help them to manage any overwhelming feelings they may be experiencing. Visiting a playground is a free and easy activity that can be conveniently included in your daily routine if there is one near to you; if you are indoors you could build a fort with your child to create a space that provides them with respite from the barrage of sensory stimulation, or create your own obstacle course to provide sensory feedback. A simple at-home obstacle course might include a plastic mat for your child to crawl along, stepping stones to jump from and a skipping rope laid on the floor for your child to walk along. If you use one, a weighted blanket may be a relaxing way to complete the course, by providing your child with soothing sensory feedback.

September onward

The transition from term-time to the summer holidays can be challenging, but so can the transition back to school. In September, we will welcome another 20 students to The Cavendish School and have already been helping them and their families to prepare for the transition by arranging for them to meet their new teachers, sharing class lists and arranging a transition day in July.

By meeting your child’s new teachers or visiting their new school together, gathering pictures to share with your child and even creating a visual storyboard, you can ensure that your child feels more comfortable at the start of the new term.

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