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23 July 2013

Tips for an autism-friendly summer

Boy on the beach. Photo by Ernest Koe

Summer is here so we’ve put together a list of tips for families and carers of children and young people with autism to get the most out of the holidays. Thanks to everyone on the Talk about Autism forums, Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit who shared their thoughts, experiences and suggestions – we really appreciate it. We hope you enjoy the holidays!

Transitioning to summer

  • Plan, structure, and balance activities and downtime for the summer in advance of the holidays
  • @SBartonWriter says: “I found transitions worked better with lots of preparation. I made photo books of what would be happening and I showed them."
  • Create countdown calendars and make sure your child understands they won’t be seeing their school friends and teachers during the holidays
  • “I prepare the boys for the summer holidays by counting down sleeps from a week before the end of term to the last day,” says Snowdrop on the forums. “I then prepare a calendar for their room and write in any days out, holidays etc on it so they can see what they will be doing on each day, as each day passes they cross out the day just gone at bedtime.”

Preparing for holidays

  • Try and prepare for holidays and days out by picking destinations with lots of information and photos you can show to your child in advance
  • “Whenever we go away we make sure we book a holiday online that shows pictures of the insides of the rooms/pool/dining room etc. printing them and showing them to our son has made the difference and prevented wasting two or three days of the holiday while he grumpily gets used to his new surroundings,” says artyhlta on the forums. “Our son is very motivated by food (a complete turnaround from when he was little) so reading food reviews of the hotel/bed and breakfast also helps.”
  • “Get YouTube footage of place to be visited or activity to be undertaken if possible to inform expectations with visual prompts,” suggests @Dr_Mel_Thomson
  • “I never thought I would ever get my son on an aeroplane and go abroad, but I showed him a brochure picture of the apartments and swimming pool and he asked to go there,” says Karen on Facebook. “He eventually accepted that he could only go there on an aeroplane and he held onto the brochure all the way there.
  • “I have to know exactly where and when we are going and how long for and exactly what we are going to do” says @thegingersquirt
  • @teasthlm says: “For longer holidays I do schedules with pictures for each day. I also plan for a mix of high and low tempo days.”
  • Check with airports in advance about whether they have any materials or guides for people on the spectrum
  • “Some airports and airlines have autism-related events where they let kids experience the whole process from ticket counter to getting in your seat” says surfkaboom on Reddit. “Nice way of doing a trial run before the big travel day.”
  • "We get seats on the plane which mean we are one of the first to get onboard, that way we don't go into a confined space with lots of people in and we get settled and occupied before the plane starts to fill up," says bumblebee on the forums. "We also go to the same place and same hotel each year which helps! Taking favorite foods, pillow cases from home and transition toys helps too. We also had to as get our son used to eating in restaurants and taking showers before we left for holiday."
  • nezumipi on Reddit says “When my (American) family visited Europe for the summer, we were very worried about my autistic younger brother getting lost in a place where he wouldn't be understood (he was verbal, but not very flexible or fluent in his communication). We prepared cards that listed basic information about him in several different languages. First we practiced having him hand the cards to family members who faked not speaking English. Then we practiced having him hand the cards to store clerks we knew. Lastly, we practiced leaving him on a street of shops (surreptitiously supervised) so he could practice entering one and finding the clerk to give them the card. In Europe, we never ended up having to use the system, but were able to have a much better vacation knowing that he would be able to seek help if lost.”

Holidays and days out

  • Create a timetable of what will be happening on your holiday or day out to show your child so they know what to expect
  • “Plan one activity day, one chilled day! Prepare for unexpected ‘I've had enough, can we go home?’ or opposite...’Why must we go home?’” says  @Aspievale
  • Jane on Facebook says: “We do a list of what's going to happen. Our beach day one was
    1 car
    2 beach
    3 play
    4 ice cream
    5 play
    6 home
    7 dinner
    8 shower
    9 story
    10 bed.
    This is somewhere we go fairly frequently and ending lists with shower story bed really helps reassure my son that the day will revert to a normal routine.”
  • “For flights I give the boys a bag with DS, books, few little cars and sweets/snacks etc. to keep them amused” says Snowdrop on the forums. “I'd also say don't fly too far, we went to Menorca and the flight was only a few hours which was just about enough.”
  • @teasthlm says: “Since travelling is so demanding for my child with autism I eliminate all other energy-draining things. I also allow for very limited diet. Only favourite food on long holidays even when it means only two variations. And yes, I always keep candy in my purse when on holiday to motivate when the energy is running on low.”
  • @BADHofbauer says “We have found keeping a fidget bag in the car helps with car journeys”
  • Karen on Facebook says: “We tend to stay in small apartment complexes rather than big hotels, and on the whole people have always been very friendly and understanding (although it would be a lie to say that we could go a whole 10 days without any behavioural problems!). So advance preparation and small, friendly places works for us.”

Preparing for returning to school

  • “We prepare my sons to go back to school, again using the calendar in their room,” says Snowdrop on the forums. “As they cross off each day of the holiday gone they can clearly see how close they are to going back to school.  My eldest son’s school have a class swap day before the end of term where each child spends the day in the class they will be in next year, they take a photo and we show my son the photo with the names of his new teachers and classmates during the summer. My other son is starting school this September and I have asked his new school for a social story with pictures of his teacher, TA, classroom etc so we'll read that to him during the summer too.  He has also had transition visits to his new school this week which I would suggest for people to arrange when their child is starting a new school.”
  • NickyB on the forum also uses a social story for her son; “It explains who is going to be in his class, and has pictures and names of the staff. We used to use a calendar to count down the days, but now he's older we can just give him verbal reminders in the days leading up to his return to school.”
  • “Ask if your child can go to photograph his new classroom/cloakroom/toilets/entrance etc. with a TA and make a booklet to look at in the summer holidays,” says artyhlta on the forums. “Also with his/her help, if they are able, think of questions he needs to know the answers to and get staff to answer them for him - in writing.  That way if he is likely to worry about a particular thing even when he has the answer - he can look at the answer. (Questions like ‘Where do I go if I feel anxious/need help/forget my dinner money? etc). Lots of visits to the new classroom/entrance. Social stories addressing any worries can also help.”

We know the holidays can be a stressful time for people and families so, if you’re looking for advice in a safe and friendly environment, our forums are open and ready to help you.