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Holidays can be a stressful time for children on the autism spectrum. Their usual routines have been broken and without a plan, anxiety and stress can set in.

Autism New Zealand suggests there are ways to manage these tendencies to create a successful, happy holiday. Not all autistic children are the same, and the way they experience the world can vary widely. However, these are some common traits present in many children who live with autism, and strategies that have proven to work.

1. Create a routine

Just because the usual routines aren’t happening doesn’t mean you can’t make new ones. Children with autism often need clearly defined routines for them to feel safe and calm.

Keep a consistent schedule of wakeup and bed times, meal times, and any other usual activities they might be doing. Writing these things down in a visual schedule is good for helping your child know exactly what’s happening on each day.

2. Plan for success

Making a good plan and sticking to it is key to having successful trips with children with autism. In your plan, provide them with lots of detail about what will be happening. Include:

  • Where they will be going
  • How they are going to get there
  • What time they will be leaving home, arriving at the destination, and returning home
  • What times activities will happen during the way, for example, lunch at 12pm
  • What they need to bring with them

Providing these details helps reduce anxiety and therefore ensures a better chance of a successful trip.

3. Write it down

Many children with autism don’t respond well to verbal commands. It’s best to write things down, or note it in some sort of visual format.

If it’s a younger child who can’t read yet, or if they just don’t like to read, you could draw reminders in a picture format.

You could even text your child the plan for the next day. Something like, “tomorrow we’re going to the zoo. We’ll be leaving at 10.15am and we’ll arrive at 11am. You need to bring…”

Some children like to have something in their pocket they can refer to. Giving them a notebook with instructions on it can work, or even post-it notes. Find a way that will work for your child.

4. Choose the right environment

One of the most difficult aspects of going out with autistic children is that some environments can be very challenging for them.

Many children with autism have sensory challenges, so taking them to a place that’s too noisy or busy can be a bad idea.

Shopping malls are a common example of a place that children with autism and sensory processing issues might find overwhelming. However, you may be able to experiment and see if your child can tolerate such places for certain periods of time. For example, plan to go for just 10 minutes, and if that’s a success, leave. It’s better to have a short but successful trip than stay for too long and have it end badly.

Children on the autism spectrum respond well to having success, so making the initial visit somewhere a success is important.

If you have a child who’s sensitive to noise, choose a time when there will be fewer people there. For example, first thing in the morning can be a quieter time for many activities.

If you can’t avoid going at a noisy time, you could give your child some noise cancelling headphones and some music they like to help drown out the noise if it’s overwhelming them.

5. Encourage their interests

Like all young people, children with autism often have particular interests. However, these interests may be intense and your child may have trouble relating to things outside of those interests.

If this is the case with your child, try to find activities that relate to their interests. For example, if they have an interest in computers, allow them to take their computer with them. Then, you could encourage them to participate in a different activity, but they know that their computer is there for them to come back to.

Be gentle when trying to introduce your child to new ideas or experiences. Because their interests can be intense they may not respond well to new experiences, and this could provoke anxiety.

6. Celebrate success

Make sure to celebrate any successes with them and let them know that they did a good job.

You could write these compliments down for them in a format that suits them. It could be a text telling them how well they did, or a note explaining what they did well.


Last updated on Tuesday, 7 May 2024

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