A schedule over the holidays that can work for everybody…

.. but more importantly a schedule over the holidays that works for your Autistic Child – because let’s face it, “happy autistic child equals happy parents”.

There is nothing worse than having a child (any child) that is constantly crying, moaning or screaming and holidays are meant to be a time for rest!   It is for this reason that you need to start getting you holiday schedule planned and finalized.  By planning your days, the activities your child is going to do and by being prepared you will have time to relax and unwind.

So here are a few things to consider before the upcoming holidays:

  • Step 1 in the process: “do not underestimate your child’s need for routine!” This is not just the first step but it is also the key to happy holidays for everybody.
  • Step 2 in the process: “plan now, shop now, make now and get you game face on”. Being prepared means you are getting ahead of the game. We are all tired at the end of the year and we want to unwind so do yourself the kindness of squeezing in some planning & preparation sessions now.
  • Step 3 in the process: whatever you do, where ever you go and no matter what the circumstance – remember that your child processes the world differently. Always keep their sensory challenges in mind when planning outings and/or gatherings.
  • Step 4 in the process: “keep it simple” – not everything has to cost money and be glamorous. One of the most common characteristics of autism is that persons on the spectrum like being alone. Use this to your advantage when you need to rest BUT make sure that the child has an enjoyable and even educational activity to keep them stimulated. Don’t just stick an IPad in their hand or a remote and allow them to sit in front of a screen for hours on end.
  • Step 5 in the process: “remember that your child is not able to change who he/she is and that you will have to”. This is not an easy one to hear because we are parents and children should do what they are told, children should conform to our rules not the other way around.

Well I have news for you … Your autistic child does not understand the Neurotypical world, our Neurotypical rules and he/she will not conform if their sensory profile is unstable and/or if they feel anxious in a situation. No matter how desperate you are for them to do it.

Let’s look at a workable schedule for all to enjoy:

  • When your child wakes up in the morning and you would still like a lay-in don’t automatically switch the television on. Rather grab a book, climb into bed with your child and read a story together. Nice time to cuddle; give some deep pressure hugs and a great way for all to start their day.
  • Keep breakfast at the same time – everyday. If you are planning a late morning breakfast outing for the entire family make sure you autistic child gets breakfast at the same time he always gets it. By doing this you will set the mood for the day.
  • Try to stick to the same morning routine of “getting dressed” – what we mean by this is your child has a “school routine” … try to stick with the “normal” morning routine even during the holiday periods.
  • Sing a song together, talk about the days of the week, months of the year and have your own “morning ring” just incorporate a discussion on the planned activities for the rest of the day.  This can be done during breakfast or even whilst you are getting your child ready for the day ahead.
  • Use the “first we doing this” … “then we are doing that technique” throughout the day. This way you are helping your child understand what is happening next and if you see that the anxiety levels of your autistic child is increasing you can also use this technique to help calm them down.
  • Prepare some pictures of activities you are planning to do or places you are planning to visit.  If you show the child where you are going and/or what you are doing “next” they will be able to prepare for the transition into a new activity.
  • Bring in a game of some sort, an educational toy or puzzle and allow your child to spend some time alone playing with it (after you have showing them how it works). Alone time early in the morning can be great for regulation.
  • If you are leaving the house you may want to consider a sensory toy for the car or a sensory activity for 30 minutes before you leave. This will help your child regulate before they have to face the crowds.
  • Another sensory activity should be planned for when you get home. This can be water play on a hot summer’s day or a bowl of noodles or rice in the kitchen with tweezers and a few cups (see holiday sensory activities for more information). After the outing make sure that you give your child space again. Give them time to regulate.
  • Keep Lunch and Dinner at the same time every day.
  • Stick to toilet routines – similar to those during the school term.
  • Make sure to incorporate a physical activity daily. One where the child can run, be outside, jump, ride a bike or swim but keep “moderation” in mind because too much of a good thing…
  • Art activities, creative time needs to be slotted in daily. This can be done with sand collected from the beach you where on earlier, shells, glue and paper. Or you can press flowers, paint with “puffy paint” or make your own Playdough.
  • Involve your child in the kitchen. Get them to cut veggies, make salads, and spread their own butter on their toast. Or bake something together.
  • Have a lie down and chill time. This can be done with your child or you can build a fort and allow your child to do it on their own. I personally prefer my lie down with my daughter.
  • Add bubbles to bath time – a great sensory activity and turn bath time into a scheduled activity.  Keep it at more or less the same time as they are already used to
  • Grab some bath pens and let your child’s creativity run wild
  • Allow for limited “movie” or TV time before dinner or after bath time.  I personally prefer using TV time as a “reward” for a great day.

Don’t let the holidays overwhelm you – remember a bed sheet can be a fort, cake flower can be paint or a sensory writing session, noodles can be laced or used in art projects, they can be cooked and coloured. An old magazine can be a cutting activity, an academic lesson or even just a magazine. Newspapers can make paper-mache activities, sensory tearing and so much more.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Amazing K!

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Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.