[Posted on 3 July, 2018 by Eva Billstedt]
Summer is here and with it summer holiday, vacations, relaxation and, hopefully, sunny days. Many of us look forward to this time of year as it provides a break from everyday life: we might stay up late to savour warm summer nights, travel to places both known and unknown, or just relax and recharge our batteries.
However, summer isn’t like that for everyone. For families with children with neuropsychiatric disorders, summer in particular can create extra stress. This can be due to uncertainty about the autumn semester, e.g. concerns about potential changes in school or whether the child will continue getting the same educational support in autumn as they did in spring, but it can also be due to the very nature of summer vacation itself. School provides an everyday structure that both the families and the children themselves rely on, and when it is broken, this can cause a great deal of strain. For example, some children with neuropsychiatric disorders might find any trips outside the house or other familiar environments to be a source of stress and concern.
One parent of a child with autism gave the following advice to other parents in similar situations: don’t compare your family’s vacation to those of other families. Instead, plan your vacation according to your own specific circumstances and make whatever adjustments you need to ensure the well-being of your child.
This is sound advice. Letting go of the idea that a vacation must be a certain way to be considered a success and instead embracing the fact that not all families enjoy spending their vacation the same way. Some families might be spontaneous, while others have to plan and schedule trips down to the last detail, including what to do, when to eat, when to get up and when to go to bed. A schedule that says how many ice creams are allowed each day. Some children are fine with going on a trip the moment the graduation ceremony is over, while others need time to unwind after all the events of the spring semester. Some children are fine with having their entire summer vacation planned out, whereas others (perhaps most) need a few breaks. Some children might enjoy going to their local theme park several days a week, while others might get exhausted from all the people and noise and other sensory inputs. What matters is making individual adjustments according to each child.
Many families with children with neuropsychiatric disorders talk about the importance of creating structure during the summer holiday and on vacations. Realising that routines are just as important in summer as they are throughout the rest of the year, regardless of whether they include school or not. To have routines for bedtime, mealtime, activities, etc. It can even be important to get a few extra weeks at day care or preschool, if possible. Anything to get as much continuity as possible in the child’s daily routine.
Summer holiday and vacations are meant to give us time to do what we want and allow us not to stress. Perhaps both we and our kids can realise that it is not necessarily our everyday routines that are boring, but rather the obligation to do things under specific time constraints.
Wishing you all a very nice summer!