For those of us with school aged youngsters, the summer holidays can present a daunting period of several weeks when we’re out of normal routine which is particularly hard to navigate for individuals with neurodivergent conditions.

Many families living with neurodivergent or complex conditions can’t access or enjoy the same holidays or events as those with neurotypical youngsters and we understand that finding opportunities to suited to your families needs is difficult.

We are here to support you with our 8 top practical tips and some useful resources to make your summer a little bit easier…

Give structure to unstructured time! Youngsters are used to the daily timetable that comes with school, from leaving the house on time to set mealtimes and designated playtime and for most neurodivergent children, routine = comfort and safety.

To ease the transition to holidays, it can be vital to keep some level of routine so your young person will understand what is expected of them at different points of the day/week.

Create structure by using a visual timetable or chatting through the day’s plans in advance, a visual family calendar is a great way to plan out the week or even the month. At SensationALL, we regularly use ‘now and next’ boards to clearly communicate with youngsters e.g. “now we are playing in the garden, next we will go to the shop“.

It’s important to build in their choices (even if it’s from your shortlist), to promote a sense of involvement and control for them. Just remember, your routine should reflect what works well for you and your family.

Here are some templates you can print to create your routine…

July calendar template
August calendar template
Activity Visuals
Now/Next planner template

Expectations of what the day/holiday will be like often sets us up for failure. Remember, the perfect day is different for everyone!

It’s so hard not to compare yourself to others and aim for what society expects you to do during the summer holidays. The small talk at the school gates can evoke anxiety and even disappointment about your plans… “you going away this year?”, “planning to take the kids to [insert name of popular event/play facility]?” Aaargh!!

The best way to overcome those feelings is by being realistic about your family’s boundaries and adapting your plans to suit. Expect multiple changes throughout the holidays (to diet, sleep, behaviour) as emotions will fluctuate with daily changes in activities and routines. Be flexible – if something isn’t going to plan, change the plan!

Our adult expectations of the “perfect” family day are often unrealistic – be kind to yourself by avoiding unnecessary expectations. Why force yourself to go abroad or be in busy environments if the stress is going to be too much. Your youngster will have a better time if the experience is relaxed and fun – they don’t remember the small details that we do. And, don’t feel bad if your plans aren’t as elaborate or busy as other families – your version of an ideal day is enough!!!

Make your plans together as a family, so everyone can suggest an activity they’d like to do during the holidays – picnics, trips to the local park, having a movie afternoon – whatever they like doing! This will give them a sense of control while empowering their sense of self as their interests and preferences bring comfort and stability.

Every child is unique and will present differently with individual needs. You are the expert when it comes to your child, so don’t compare with others do what’s right for you your child and your family. Keep using any strategies that work in term-time.

Make sure to include time for relaxing or downtime as it can be tempting to have fill the days with activities and adventures but often this is overwhelming for both them and us. Maybe alternate activity days with low key days at home. The odd PJ day is a great idea!

Use our Energy Ladders templates to manage everyone’s emotions throughout the holidays. Why not create a personalised one for each member of the family so everyone can use it to communicate and highlight what they need.

Do some role-play if you are going on holiday or having days out as it can be overwhelming for our individuals if they don’t know what an event/place may be like, or what will happen when they get there.

Many venues have video walk-through’s/photos or generic scenarios can be found online to watch beforehand. Making a checklist of expectations (to mark off as they happen) can be a good way of manage expectations. Role-playing the event helps to prepare them, e.g. pretending you’re in the airport, going through customs, pretend to scan the suitcase etc.

Remember to COMMUNICATE! One of the biggest causes of anxiety is the unknown. Chat through the day’s plan, talk about feelings about an event, use visuals to communicate (could be photos on your phone, symbols or hand drawn pictures, checklists, schedules, coping strategy cards etc.). Communicate as a family, chatting through concerns, needs and expectations as a group “what shall we do if“… to help each family member feel prepared.

Many places, events, and businesses will have accommodations for those with additional needs or neurodivergent conditions but sometimes they aren’t obvious and too often we feel embarrassed or afraid to ask.

Lots of venues provide free carer places or sensory kits/visual guides and there may be quieter routes/areas you can access. Wearing a sunflower lanyard can be helpful to alert staff to your family’s possible support needs, and can even reduce waiting times or the need to queue.

Constantly thinking of our child’s needs can be exhausting! Often we are surviving on little sleep, or virtually no respite from our caring roles. It’s vital that you take care of you too!

Say ‘no’ to things that will overstretch you. Ask for support from others (a partner, relative or friend) who can watch the children while you have a shopping trip, walk or drive by yourself – whatever you need to stay sane!

Find your Tribe! Never forget… you are part of a wider parenting ‘tribe’ of families going through similar things who are also desperate for company.

Reach out to a friend, message a social media group chat, or email us at SensationALL. It’s highly likely someone else will be up for that trip to the park or be available for a coffee and chat. Support from others on outings can make or break the trip.

Even though SensationALL’s sessions fill up quickly, our network of families are always available via the Facebook forum!

Sensory activities and toys are great for keeping youngsters regulated. Never leave home without a sensory bag of tricks containing their favourite fidgets or comforters.

Build a mix of high and low energy activities into your schedule so to manage periods when they are feeling over or under stimulated. Active calming exercises like obstacle courses, skipping, running or bouncing are perfect for those with excess energy. While it’s a great idea to keep a selection of calming activities in reserve for whenever you need them to stay indoors or bring their energy down.

Here are some of our SensationALL sensory activities that can easily be done at home. There’s things to make, bake and feel great with high energy activities like the scavenger hunt (perfect to keep youngsters focused on a task while you’re out and about) or the lower energy word search which is great for those who find cognitive exercises relaxing…

It may seem like a long time away but keep focused on the return to school as, it will present yet ANOTHER change for youngsters who have probably just got used to the holiday routine.

A few weeks before school restarts, why not deliberately drive or walk past the school or go to the school playground. Use the calendar to have a countdown so it’s clear how many days there are before school starts.

Why not make the back-to-school shopping a fun activity they can be part of? Going into shops might not be possible but get them to choose their new school bag or lunchbox online so they feel involved.

For older children, use what you know about their new schedule, classes, peers to prepare them for the transition to a new class or school. Stay positive by highlighting the things they like about school and emphasise opportunities that a new year presents i.e. better school lunches, more variety of classes etc. The week before school it can be really helpful to get back into the early morning routines (for us as well as them!).