For parents of neurodiverse kids the school holidays can bring with them a bag of mixed emotions. Time with the kiddos? Wonderful. Filling that time? That’s the tricky bit! However, with a bit of planning and structure school holidays can be a time for families to thrive in each other’s company rather than simply hold on and survive.
Keep to a routine
Neurodiverse kids need routine. But you already knew that, right? One of the best ways, we’ve found, to keep that routine front and centre is to write it out and stick it where everyone can see it. This works to help the ‘what are we doing next?’ line of repetitive questioning, eases anxiety and hands some control back to your child. You can either spend time drawing up a daily routine together or, if your little one is a visual learner, use visual supports to plan out your day.
Find sensory days
Ask your local museums, galleries and zoos if they have ‘sensory days’. This is where music, lights and crowd sizes are adjusted for kids who can become overwhelmed sensorily.
Whenever you can, create a ‘social story’ to manage expectations and prepare your little one for the day’s adventure. Melbourne Museum’s social story is a great example of how you can explain to young kids what they can expect.
Sometimes easier said than done but if your kiddo likes to go outside, or has a lot of energy but doesn’t enjoy team sports, think about making a visual plan or create a social story around taking a long family walk. Getting into nature can not only calm anxiety it can help to solidify family bonds and give you time and space to just shoot the breeze.
If your little one is new to going for bigger walks, you can always start in 20 minute increments and prepare them by explaining what you’re going to be doing and what you might be seeing. Making a game out of it can be fun – ask them to find 10 different shaped stones, spot 3 kinds of birds, pick up different kinds of leaves or simply find the best spot for a picnic.
Activities at home
Days spent at home can be just as beneficial as getting out and about. For that reason here are a few activities you can all do together with the least amount of prep.
Puzzles. Heading to a local toy store or even making your own jigsaw puzzle can be a great way for kids to pass the time. The whole family can contribute or your little one might just want to have some focused quiet time.
Homemade playdough. Take it one step beyond slime and create Fizzy dough, which turns regular dough into a mini science experiment, it’s ‘taste safe’ and ingredients are very easy to find.
Finger painting. Having paints on hand is very handy when you’re at a loss of what to do. Yes it gets a bit messy, and you do need to keep your eyes peeled (walls, couches can be in the firing line), but painting lets kids unwind and, at the same time, practice their creativity.
Playing an instrument. A little glockenspiel or even a keyboard is a great way to introduce kids to music and learn some great transferable motor skills. Just turn the volume to low.
And just as kids need routine during the holidays they also need to prepare for heading back to school. Having a countdown for the first day of school can ease any anxiety about change by giving them time to process what’s coming up. Again, stick the countdown up in a place where they can see it regularly, like the kitchen, the living room or even in their own bedroom.