Many of us equate holiday vacations with a much-needed hiatus from daily stressors. But a child with autism can have a very different perspective.

“One of the core deficits of autism is restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviors. Many of our clients insist on sameness or inflexible adherence to routines,” says Jordan Hulass, Lead Program Coordinator at Potential Inc. “Vacation can, and most likely will, spark several changes to their typical day. This can be difficult for them to cope with.”

Understanding your child’s needs, Hulass says, will help inform whether you should fill their holiday break with activities, downtime, or a balance of both.

“If they struggle with changes to their routines, ensure they have scheduled or planned access to all their preferred activities,” he says. “And if you’re planning to do anything out of the ordinary, present it in a welcoming and encouraging way. Use ‘first/then’ language, and schedule breaks.”

It’s also a good idea to start preparing your child now, rather than waiting until the beginning of their holiday break. If they respond well to visual cues, maybe cross the days off on a calendar as you get closer to their break. And help them understand that the break is just like a weekend, only longer.

Use this time to also connect with your child’s support team. Ask what you can do at home to help maintain their progress and daytime routines.

During their break, look for autism-friendly activities in your area, but try to remember to be flexible. If they decide they’re not up for it, that’s OK. Try again another day.

When you do go out, come up with a signal beforehand that your child can use to indicate they need a break. As Hulass said, plan to take frequent, short breaks either way. They’ll help your child cope with challenging emotions or sensory discomfort. A favorite item, like fidgets, headphones, or a tablet, can help calm and focus them.

The more in tune you’re able to be with your child’s needs, the more enjoyable the holiday break should be for everyone.

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