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Surviving the summer with autistic children

autism summer holidays

From a distance, summer holidays appear to be fun and relaxing. However, the reality of 6-7 weeks without the routine of school can be very stressful for both autistic children and their families. Many autistic children find it very difficult to adjust to a different daily routine, and may become withdrawn, angry or aggressive because of this.

It can take some time to get into the swing of how to manage holidays with your child. The key is to plan, plan and plan some more.

Daily planning

It’s important for children to understand what’s expected of them at home during the holidays. Sticking to a routine that is as close as possible to what happens during term time may be useful. If this is too difficult or not necessary, simply create a morning and evening routine that you want them to understand. My daughter gets very anxious not knowing what is happening, and hasn’t quite got her head round the whole summer holidays thing. So, for my child our morning routine looks like this:

  • iPad time
  • breakfast
  • get dressed
  • toilet
  • brush teeth
  • go out

I communicate this to her with a laminated list that I show her each morning. You can get creative and use visuals and pictures for each thing in your routine – you have to go with what works best for your child.

Weekly planning

Some children need to know what is happening well in advance, and some just want to know what is happening today. It will be helpful for you to plan as much as possible what you are going to do over the summer. I find that having one planned activity for the morning and an afternoon activity that my child chooses each day works. Some examples of our planned morning activities include:

  • swimming
  • soft play
  • the aquarium
  • Bournstream or Kingston Seymour disability playgrounds (we could just go to any playground but we live in the sticks so there’s not much near our home)
  • go to a cafe (we love Cafe des Amis inside Easton Community Centre. Very autism friendly and there’s a great playground behind the centre)
  • a visit to a friend’s house
  • walk to a nearby pond to feed the ducks

The afternoon activities my daughter has to choose from include:

  • Incredible Kids (play sessions for children with additional needs)
  • ‘yellow gate’ playground (the tiny toddler playground near our home)
  • the beach
  • ‘orange shop’ (Sainsbury’s to you and me, this is a top outing as it includes some form of chocolate and a ride on the ladybug in the entryway)
  • post office (this sounds dull but my local PO is half post office half toy shop. This also involves a nice walk for me to get there and back.)
  • stay at home

The list of things I choose gives me the option to go with something low key. By having these options at the ready, our days have a bit of structure, which helps both my child and me. Simply being out of the house for any length of time decreases isolation for us. The options above are of course our options – they won’t work for everyone. My point here is simply that if you can plan and come up with a list of things you can do, it’s less stressful than having to think of something every day.

The mighty countdown

Be sure to have a countdown that shows how many days are left until school. This will save your sanity and help your child understand that this crazy, routineless time will come to an end at some point. A countdown app or simply a printed calendar on the wall with days crossed off as you go will do the job.

Autism-friendly activities

There are a lot of autism-friendly activities – more and more all of the time. Here are a few:

…all offer quiet sessions for children with autism and sensory issues. If you are a Facebook user, check out our SEND Community Events calendar page, where we post all the events and activities that cross our path.

Pink card

Bristol and South Gloucestershire councils issue a ‘pink card’ for disabled children. This is literally a pink card which gets you free entry as a carer in a huge variety of attractions including the zoo, Westonbirt Arboretum, the aquarium and many others. Click here for a Bristol pink card and click here for a South Glos pink card. North Somerset does not have a card scheme. BaNES has a Rainbow Resource card; click here to apply for one. It’s very useful to have a pink card during school holidays.

Self care

Above all, look after yourself! We do bang on about it but you truly can’t pour from an empty cup. If your child will not leave the house, set yourself up with a good book or a Netflix binge. Check out mental health apps like Headspace or Calm. Remember that you are not failing as a parent if your holiday doesn’t look like everyone else’s holiday. You are doing the best you can, and that’s all you can do.


See also:

Holidays for families with autistic children

About the author

Kate Laine-Toner

Kate Laine-Toner

Kate Laine-Toner is the founder and Chief Executive of Bristol Autism Support.