Keeping you autistic child busy during the holidays

Whilst many happily anticipate a holiday, families of children on the autism spectrum face special challenges.  A disruption in the child schedule, broken routines and boredom bring chaos.

We have compiled a list of tips that will help for sure!

  1. Most children on the spectrum flourish with structure so keep this in mind during the holidays. Try and keep your child’s routine as close to the one they are used to during the school terms.  From the time they wake up right through to bed time.
  2. Preparation is crucial – make sure you are prepared for what comes next. If you are taking your child to a new destination prepare them for it.  Print pictures of the internet.  Show them where you are going and explain to them how you are going to get there.  Take a favourite toy or book with you.  Because having a familiar item with them will help them cope with their anxiety.
  3. Manage time. This is so often forgotten and yet it is so incredible important.  A tired or hungry child is going to transition into a new space with far less ease than one who has a full tummy.  Make sure you keep to your child routine from an eating perspective – even if it means you need to give them a snack before you go out to family or friends.  Don’t expect your child to understand that other people eat later or different types of food.  It is better to arrive late because your child had to have a nap than to arrive with an over tired, over stimulated child.
  4. Make sure you have activities lined up for your child over the holidays. Autistic children don’t know how to keep themselves busy – and sitting in front of the television for hours does not mean that they are not bored.  Prepare activities that will help stimulate their incredible minds.
  5. Decorations and noise management. Holidays can get noisy and busy and often lights and music will be the cause of a meltdown.  Keep your child’s sensory profile in mind when you are decorating your home or when you choose activities that are outside of the house.
  6. If you child has difficulty with change make sure that you help them transition from one activity to the next. Going to the beach, to a mall or even to a friend’s home.  Engage this child in the process.  Explain visually to the child “what happens next”.  Use the first, then rule continuously explaining to your child what comes next.  You can also help prepare your child with social stories.
  7. Same is good. Whilst holidays for many means lavish meals, parties and different treats – the Autistic child needs “same”.  Make sure you have your child’s favourite food or toy readily available.
  8. Go back to basics. Realise that when a child’s behaviour changes there is always a reason.  For our non-verbal autistic it often is a way to tell us something.  Run the check-list a million times a day if you have to.  Is my child tired?  Is my child hungry?  Is my child bored?  Is my child over stimulated?  Has my child’s tummy worked?  Could my child be getting sick? 9 out of 10 times it will be boredom that cause erratic behaviour.
  9. Stand firm. Do not let your child’s behaviour put you in a position of “rewarding them for bad behaviour”.  If you allow this once it will happen again and again.  No is no and they need to understand this.

The best bit of advice that I can offer would be:  “know your child!  Know when they are being naughty and when they are over stimulated or anxious!”  If you detect that a situation may become overwhelming, help the child find a quiet area in which to regulate.

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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.