Variety's Not Always the Spice of Life Ahhhhh summer holidays, six full weeks of not having to be up early, dashing around getting kids ready for school, lazy days in front of the TV, exciting family days out. Bliss! Does this sound like your summer holidays? No? Mine neither, and I am sure it doesn’t sound like the summer holidays of many parents who have children with special needs. I love my children, so much, from the bottom of my heart, but the idea of summer holidays fills me with dread. You may think I sound awful; I mean who wouldn’t want six whole weeks with their children? It’s just that six weeks out of the usual routine is too much for my children. My children have autism; they rely on routine. They wake up, they have breakfast, usually the same breakfast, served on the same plate at the same seat at the table. Monday to Friday, they wear their uniforms and we set off for school. This helps them to understand what is happening that day, this helps them to have an understanding of a world that is extremely confusing to them, it is like a comfort blanket, it reassures them. It lets them know where they are in the week and what is expected of them, who they will be seeing and what they will be doing. In return this creates a more calming state for them. When this is ripped away, their world is turned upside down. The first Monday after summer holidays starts, they wake up expecting to go to school, but no. There is no uniform laid out, no bags ready by the door. This then creates anxiety within them, a sense of panic, they don’t know what is happening. That’s when the meltdowns begin. The tears, the self-harm, the confusion. As hard as I try to prepare them, the first three weeks are very difficult. After those initial three weeks, they settle down and start to adapt to this new routine of being home every day, phew! A bit of normality begins, now, what can we do? Where can we go? Exciting yes??? No. Not exciting at all. Why you may ask? Well, during summer holidays everywhere is mad busy, crowded, loud, lots of hustle and bustle. The type of things that my children find immensely difficult to deal with. Theme parks, fast food places, shopping centres, cinema, the beach, soft play centres, the zoo, aquariums, museums – you name it they are chock-a-block over the summer holidays. I make the effort to prepare my children for an exciting day out, I use visuals to prepare them every step of the way, but when we turn up and there are hundreds of people chattering, my children get overwhelmed. The queues can cause a lot of stress for my children and they don’t quite understand that they have to wait, or why they have to wait. People pushing past and brushing against my children then Boom!! The meltdown begins. Meltdowns aren’t like a tantrum, it’s not because they can’t get their own way over something, it’s because of sensory overload and extreme anxiety, a bit like a panic attack. When this happens, everybody seems to stare, or tut, or complain. It is stressful, trying to calm my children down and explain to passers-by that my 13-year-old son isn’t being a “spoilt brat”, that he is finding everything difficult to deal with. The same with my 3-year-old, they always assume it’s a tantrum! We usually end up having to go home. On top of all that, my daughter is awake from 2am and requires supervision during all waking hours, this means I too have to be up at 2am with her. When she is at school, it gives me a couple of hours to relax and rest, but during summer holidays, I don’t have those vital hours to recharge my batteries, this adds to the difficulty of getting out and about as I am mostly exhausted. As you can see, summer holidays are not straight forward for us, and for many others who have children with autism. So how do we get through them? We get through them with love, patience and repetition. Doing the same, failproof activities over and over again. My children find repetitive things comforting and enjoyable. So, we won’t be going on any fancy holidays, or any massive trips out, we will be doing things that my children find reassuring and enjoyable, like a walk through the local park, taking a ball to the fields, playing in the sensory room, on the trampoline and lots of tickling and laughing! There are days I wish I could take them to do more exciting things, but during the summer, when everything is its busiest, they don’t enjoy it. So we do things they will enjoy!