Keeping sane during the long December Holiday

Time is fast approaching for all of us to enjoy the December Holiday and whilst most are very excited about the prospect of going on holiday the reality of having a special needs child for 5 weeks at home is very daunting for others.

Children with autism (in particular) are not great at keeping themselves busy and a bored autistic child can be a very difficult autistic child.  Holidays for many autism families are filled with tantrums and frustrations and the truth of the matter is that it does not need to be like this.

So what are our top 10 “keeping sane” holiday tips for you:

  1. Get ahead of the game – nobody knows your child better than you do so plan ahead!  Just like you plan your trip, your Christmas meal and the celebrations over the festive season you need to plan for the fact that your autistic child needs to be stimulated mentally but not over stimulated from a sensory perspective.
  2. Pick you battles – the holidays are busy, they are noisy and bright in all the shopping centers.  If you know that your child is not going to cope (from experience) then avoid them all together.   Avoid situations that you know will cause distress and don’t be bullied into housing guests if you know that your child will not cope with the change in their daily routine.
  3. Put a holiday plan in motion – planning for the holidays is vital.  Make a list of activities that you know your child will enjoy and fit them into your holiday plans.  Buy a few new goodies that you can introduce over the holidays and make their days fun and educational.  Autistic children love learning.
  4. Keep the children stimulated – give the child activities to do during the course of the day.  It does not need to be curriculum based it merely needs to stimulate them.  Get them to sort items, match items, construct items, paint, draw, cut, color and lace.  Get creative in the kitchen and let them help you around the house.
  5. Avoid to much “screen time” – whilst TV and iPad’s are a convenient go to for most families it is not ideal and should be kept to a minimum.
  6. Too much of a good thing can be very negative – e.g. most autistic children love water, they love swimming and jumping on a trampoline and whilst these are all outdoor activities that are fantastic know that too much of a good thing can lead to complete sensory overload and over stimulation.  Limit the time the child spends on these activities.
  7. Coping with change – put visual schedules in place to help your child cope with the change is his/her daily routine. Visual schedules are great when going to new places.
  8. Keep things the same as far as possible. Autistic children and routines go hand in hand.  Try and keep their “normal” day time routines as far as possible.  The autism school your child attends will be able to help you with a daily schedule. Stick to meal times, bed times and bath times as best you can.
  9. Monitor sensory input – as a parent you will need to be very aware of the sensory input your child is receiving during the holidays. When we go to the seaside for example we need to understand that beaches are hot, the ocean and holiday makers are loud, the sand is sensory, the sunscreen, bright sun, all the colorful umbrellas on the beach and the water are all enjoyable for us but it may be hopelessly to much sensory input for the autistic child.
  10. Have fun – as hard as this sounds it is really important that parents have fun with their autistic children. The relationship between parent and child is the most powerful tool you have to your disposal.  If you are highly strung and annoyed chances are your child will feel the same.  Take it easy, relax together, bond, play, laugh together and build trust.  If you child trusts that you understand them they will be more willing to try new things and explore new places.
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.