As the school holidays arrive, social media is often lit up with posts from parents relieved not to have to endure the school run for a while and to be able to relax and spend some creative, pressure free and fun time with their little people.
For parents like me, the reality is a little bit different. In a home where Autism dominates, routine is king and any deviation from what is regular, predictable and therefore safe, can present a challenge.
This year, as I have finally decided what I want to do with my life (aged 42 and a half) and have huuuuge plans for my business and my family I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of dreading the school holidays; the loss of my freedom, the time to invest in myself and the ability to relax and not be on high alert for any mischief / danger!
That’s not to say that there aren’t moments and days within the holidays that I don’t love being with my children, but it takes more planning, more energy, more patience (and often more gin) than a typical week or even weekend which punctuates a week of respite and routine for me while my son is at school.
When in doubt, I map it out. I am a list writer. In fact, I am that person who writes things on their to do list when they have just done it so that I can cross it off (if you’re smiling reading that, you are too! Yeay!) So, to help calm my fractious mind I got thinking about all the things I could do to help both myself and my children through the holidays so that its enjoyable for us all. I have listed my thoughts below and I hope that there’s even just one idea here that you haven’t tried before that helps this year.
Get a wall planner or simply draw out boxes for each day / week and put it up somewhere visible. The FIRST thing you must do is to add any time (hours or days) where you can make time for yourself. This could be when your ex has your children or simply when you can take a bath with the door locked. If you have carers that spend time with your children in the holidays, try to arrange the times as far in advance as you can. It is ESSENTIAL that you get time for yourself, something that I always tried to shoehorn in once everyone else was taken care of because I felt selfish otherwise. I know now that without that down time I am snappy, tired and resentful at times so making sure I am at my best for my family is a SELFLESS act.
If you have more than one child, have a conversation about the kinds of things that everyone would like to do so that everyone feels included and valued. Do not feel that you have to do it all! It’s not an itinerary, just a menu and a way of including everyone and hearing every voice (something really important for siblings)
Consider a visual timetable / planner for your child too. For Harry, he will have the same homemade planner as me and I will stick on pictures of things I know are happening for him e.g., a few days in a hotel for us two, days with his Dad, trampoline visits and shopping days. Don’t think you have to fill the whole 6/7 weeks straight away particularly for activities that are weather dependent but if you know a couple of days in advance, then you can update the chart, so they have some time to process it.
I see lots of websites suggesting that parents think of one thing that they can do each day. I don’t know about you but the pressure of that is a bit anxiety inducing and while routine is super important, I don’t want the entire school holidays planned with military precision. Instead, I try to think of one event a week that we can do. It might be a visit to the cinema, trampoline park, shopping or a lunch date. That is something I am happy to think about and it doesn’t come with the same pressure as trying to come up with 42 events (I need a drink just writing that down!!) Of course, if your child needs something daily such as a familiar walk then factor that in. Do what works for you and your family!
That brings me to another point – schedule in regular chill days and do not feel guilty for them. Often, after a day or event out, we will have a PJ day so that we can all relax at home. Going out is great but it can also be overwhelming and a little much (for us all not just Harry) so a guilt free movie day is the perfect antidote.
Get creative at home. Now I am no Pinterest mum, but it doesn’t take much money or effort to get some bubble blowing on the go. If the sunshine makes an appearance, you could get a paddling pool out, have a garden picnic, get some wall or path chalking done, mix some cornflour and water for sensory play or get baking (a pack from the supermarket is fine. No one expects Mary Berry! Personally, I am team Betty Crocker)
Another common issue for parents of children with additional needs is being able to catch up with your friends. Going out together often involves having eyes in the back of your head and being poised to dash off at any moment which isn’t really conducive to a great chat so invite friends to you! Explain that its easier and that some quality time with them means a lot to you.
Stock up on essentials as soon as you can. In this house that’s pork pies, cookies and custard (not together) for Harry and if a block of cheddar and a bottle of gin finds its way into my trolley well that’s not the worst thing! It can be really frustrating to be at home without the one thing that your child wants so have a think now about what that is and stock up to prevent their disappointment and your stress.
If, heaven forbid, you do need to take your child shopping (or human bowling in my case as Harry ploughs down innocent shoppers to get to the toy section!) then go as early as you can. It’s often much quieter with less people to judge if things do get a little hairy.
If you are planning on any trips out or visits, give the venue a call ahead of time to explain that you are coming. Often you can ask about the issues that you know may be a trigger for your child and its always useful to get a contact name for someone so that you can explain that you spoke with them as you arrive. Sometimes, there are tiny extra things that they can add that can make a big difference to your day.
Linked to this, keep a copy of your DLA (Disability Living Allowance) or any diagnostic paperwork handy in case you can gain discounted entry to places as a carer.
My penultimate tip is just to breathe. I know, I know. It sounds ridiculous but have you ever taken the time to monitor your breathing patterns? Often, during times of stress and anxiety we will breathe rapidly and shallow, reducing the flow of oxygen to the muscles and part of our brains that need it most. I naturally shallow breathe most of the time and have to be incredibly mindful of my breathing patterns to ensure that I am getting the oxygen I need. During times of stress, this is heightened still, and I can soon feel dizzy and weak, so deep breathing is a practice I try to do several times a day. There is a wealth of info online about different types of breathing exercises you can try but there is a link here to one article to start you off
And finally, the biggy..Dont compare!! The internet will be flooded over the school holidays with images and videos of the ‘perfect’ parents, the BEST days out ever and the MOST loving and wonderful memories! Please don’t believe that this is anyone’s permanent state. I know some incredible mums who absolutely will NAIL the 6 weeks and their kids will have a fantastic time, but I have no doubt that even they will have times where they are tearing their hair out! Don’t compare your behind the scenes with anyone else’s edited highlights.
Alternatively, feel free to come online and see the circus that I manage over the school holidays …there will be lounge acrobatics, hopefully nothing involving fire this year (shout out to Biddulph fire brigade!) and I am fairly certain that the compare will be daytime drinking by week 2.
I’ll be keeping it real for sure. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favour my friends.
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My son was recently diagnosed with autism. Family does not understand why he gets upset other places or responds a certain way. It’s February and I’m already dreading holidays……
I am so glad to have found this article. I dread Holidays and days off of school. I try to have a few activities in mind but leave room open for changes. I live with my daughter and autistic grandson who is twelve. Sometimes I don’t have any ideas so I ask him. Sometimes it works out pretty well. I wish he had a friend his own age. We don’t even have a support group or contact with any of his classmates parents.