So Summer holidays have begun and we are starting to worry! As much as we love to spend time with our families, 6 weeks is a long time! And for those of us that have family members with Additional Learning Needs or Disabilities - it can be a lonely time. Here at CanDo Hub we wanted to share some of our top tips to cope this summer and hopefully make the holidays easier for you!
Have a plan
Have a plan of the day’s activities. I always find that visual pictures of the venue and different areas are really helpful, by explaining your plan verbally and backing up with pictures or social stories you will be able to walk your family member through the day initially in advance within the comfort of a familiar setting. The more your family member knows what to expect the less anxiety of the unknown.
There’s lot of venues that now offer ALN friendly events and don’t be put off if your family member doesn’t have autism but the venue offers an autism event. No one is going to check on the door whether your family member has autism or another specific additional need. Specific ‘autism friendly’ or Additional Need events are put on my venues to help make the visit run a little smoother for you. For example, staff may be trained in dealing with families with ALN, lighting being adjusted, sound being quieter or there may be a way of minimising the time to queue for an attraction. If it isn’t specifically advertised as an ‘ALN event’ then don’t be afraid to call ahead and ask management beforehand how they can accommodate families or individuals with ALN.
Join a local online network.
if you're on social media a quick search in your local area of Additional Needs groups can really help! For those local to Swansea - Swansea Bay Additional Needs Activities and Events, joining the dots, S.A.N Support Additional Needs Neath And District are fantastic at sign posting all activities. If your family member has Autism - I can highly recommend National Autistic Society Swansea Branch and Swansea Autism Movement. Most of the groups will sign post activities with families also giving recommendations.
Research Safety and risks
Before you leave home, research and understand the risk factors. For example, is there a big open space outdoors and your family member has a tendency to wander or is there small walkways where you can imagine that your family member will feel claustrophobic in. By taking all this in, it can reduce the level of anxiety and meltdowns.
Create an outing kit.
Before you leave the house, think of tools that might aid a successful trip. For example, noise cancelling headphones, a sensory toy, a tablet for movies or games, a drink.
Take small steps.
New places, people and activities can provoke anxiety. Often if you break down a large activity and introduce it piece by piece, then completing the entire activity can be accomplished after a few exposures. If the event is a physical activity, there’s a lot to take In, people, venue, the tasks, the leader, the other participants, the noise, the smells. Everything takes time to get used to. Just like schools, although we really hope that it all ‘clicks’ the first day with a new teacher, the truth is, that sometimes, it takes quite some time to establish a relationship with a group leader. So if you take your son to football, and he doesn’t join in for the entire session the first time round, perhaps persevere. Talk to your family member, it could be that they just need some more time to build that relationship and get used to the surroundings.
We all like praise. Even if the day goes horrifically wrong, look for the positives and praise the positive behaviour. ‘I really liked the way you waited in line for a turn on the ride. Well done!’.
An Extra pair of hands
Especially if it’s a new place that you’re visiting. Don’t try and do it alone. That will cause you more stress. You will panic and evidentially your family member will panic too. Perhaps a family member or a friend that can help and step in if things don’t go to plan.
Be prepared to leave.
This doesn’t mean you have failed in any sense! Sometimes with all the best planning in the world, things don’t go to plan. If that happens, you don’t have to stick it out to prove anything to anyone. If you are going with a group of people, discuss this in advance so that if it does happen, then they are aware and will prevent emotions from running high.
And finally, Enjoy!
Yes, you’ve heard me enjoy. Don’t spend time worrying if that lady over there keeps staring, or you are worried about what will happen IF your family member has a meltdown. Live in the present. Enjoy time and explore the new venue as a family. You are just as entitled to enjoy outings and time together like any other family. And if you are feeling uncomfortable if someone is staring for way too long – a smile and a quick ‘Hello’ or ‘can I help you?’ normally does the trick 😊