August is here, our week of summer club at school is over, and the the holidays have begun for real. Five more weeks of waking up every day and thinking ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do today?”
Every parent I know has a bit of a love-hate relationship with the 6 week break. They begin full of energy and ideas, places to go, things to do, maybe even a holiday or two. By the end of it the parents feel like the 6 weeks have lasted forever, and can’t wait for school to start again.
For autism families like ours, the summer holidays present the same problem we have every weekend, “What are we going to do today?” The summer break is like we now have 18 consecutive weekends back to back.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about spending time with my kids, I absolutely love the time I can have with them in the holidays, and hate it when I have to leave for work every other day. It’s just the holiday period is challenging, and the main problems we have are two-fold
- Jude is unable to spend any amount of time in the same room as his brother Tommy. This means they pretty much need one-on-one care all day long.
- There’s a real lack of places that we can go to that Tommy and Jude will enjoy, and that aren’t jam packed with other kids, their worst nightmare!
So, during the month of August it feels like you spend half the time scratching your head trying to come up with good ideas to keep them active, and the rest of it feeling guilty that their holiday isn’t as fun as it should be.
When I think back to my summer holidays, like most kids, I absolutely loved them. I’m sure they took a lot of planning on my parent’s part, but they seemed simple enough to me.
I was busy every day playing tennis and football. Going to the park with friends, having day-trips to the beach with family. Visiting the cinema, the theatre, exploring all of the culture that London had to offer. For a week or two I’d get to go abroad, usually with more friends and family, and where there’d be kids clubs to keep me entertained all day long.
Every summer, when I sit on the train going to work, I see families excitedly travelling to whatever fun-filled activity they’ve got planned that day. I see them with suitcases ready to go to the airport. I see them talking about the film they’re going to see, or what sight in London they’re off to explore.
My summer holidays were just like those kids, jam-packed with activities. Plus, just like them, I was always around other kids, and therein lies the main problem…..the fact that during the summer holidays every other kid is off school too.
Right now, at the ages of 8 and 5 friendships are something that Jude and Tommy have been unable to develop with other children. The only real friendships they have are with the people who look after them. So, their holidays and weekends don’t consist of spending time with their friends doing fun activities together like mine did, instead it’s with us, their parents, or other carers, one on one. Basically adults, not other children.
Jude can be extremely anxious around other kids, to him they are loud and unpredictable. Tommy is much more tolerant, but he doesn’t really understand how to interact with them too much, or join in with what they are doing. Because they both have such limited communication skills, socialising is very hard for them.
All of the traditional holiday activities that might be fun, well guess what? Every other family thinks they’ll be fun too, meaning there’s hundreds of other kids there too.
So, what can we do for the next 5 weeks?
A summer holiday abroad is out of the question. Two hours at a busy airport, before another 2-3 hours on a plane is a bit out of our reach right now.
There’s no other sports or holiday clubs in our area that could cater for their needs, so that option is out.
Cinema? There are a number of autism friendly showings that are popping up, but unless they release a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse movie then I don’t think they’d last more than 3 minutes.
The theatre? Same as above
Museums, or other exhibits? The same applies, they wouldn’t be interested, and again the number of other people around would be too much.
The beach? We’ll try and do some trips. From past experience an hour or two is the most they’ve been able to handle, but it can be worth it.
The park? We’ll spend as much time here as we can. On a good day we’ll get an hour at the park, any more than this and both Jude and Tommy seem to struggle coping with it.
Swimming? Although they both love being in the pool, the amount of noise in a packed swimming pool, and the whole changing room scenario just ruins the experience.
We’ll be praying for dry weather, so that there’s lot’s of opportunity to play in the garden. To be outside bouncing on a trampoline or playing in a paddling pool, without the stress of other children
We’ll try and go for walks along the river, timing it so that it’s at a quieter time of day. Tommy will be able to go crabbing, and we’ll try and make sure he doesn’t keep putting his hand in the bucket to pick up the crabs.
We’ll go for lot’s of drives. An hour or so a day listening to music whilst being driven around the countryside is Jude’s idea of heaven, and means there’s no stress from he outside world. These drives may coincide with a trip to the golden arches of McDonalds, the only restaurant we can have a ‘meal’ at!
We’ll also try and get to the sensory room we visit once or twice a week, as it’s somewhere Jude or Tommy can have exclusive use. This means an hour of uninterrupted play without the risk of any other children upsetting the mood.
Other than that, there’ll be a lot of time spent at home, doing whatever it is they both enjoy, separately. So in Jude’s case it will be lot’s of physical rough and tumble, lot’s of bouncing on the bed, pushing and pulling, and sensory activities with blankets. For Tommy it will be puzzles, painting, sensory play with things he can touch, looking at books, and running around.
And of course the sacred iPad. There’ll be lots of use of the iPad, especially when they have to spend time together. For Jude it’s a real comforter, one that, as he is becoming more and more skilled in using, has increased his independence.
I used to be envious of other families, and all the fun things they seemed to be getting up to in every holiday time. But then I realised it’s not about all the things we can’t do, all the things that I think Tommy and Jude should be having fun doing. It’s about focusing on what they really enjoy, and making sure they have the best time possible doing whatever that is.
So if that means most of their holidays are spent inside at home, or driving aimlessly around in the car, then so be it. If that’s what they love then my job is to make sure they have the most fun possible whilst doing it, and for the next five weeks that’s what I’ll focus on doing