For most of us working parents our kiddos Winter Break means trying to plan outings, play dates, and get-togethers to fill up the two or more weeks they are homebound. This is no small feat for the savviest scheduling parent, but for us normal folk it’s a bit more challenging. There is so much unstructured time, and for a child with Special Needs, this can be a ripe breeding ground for meltdowns and challenges for the whole family. Unstructured means unexpected and unexpected means I have no idea what will be coming at me next. Can you imagine two weeks of feeling this anxiety? It’s never too early to start to think about what your child's schedule will look like for the Winter Break and I’m here to give you a few ideas!
Ask your child’s teacher for a “homework” packet. In the beginning of my teaching career, I would send home these packets during the break that were filled with work specific to my students IEP goals, but also some pointers on fun things to do together as a family. Your childs teacher will love that you want to keep your child goals moving in the right direction over break because this means they don’t have to take 5 steps backward when their students return in January because they have lost skills.
Is your child’s service providers seeing them over the break? Could you have some of them overlap so they can collaborate and work on skills together? This will help your child and their team as this will make what they are learning consistent across settings, which is important for mastery of skills. I know during breaks I like to work on fun activities such as sensory integration or paired play with a friend. Making sure your child's services don’t take a break is very important as well so make sure to fill up on them while you can. This is also a great opportunity to fulfill time you and your service provider may have been absent for during the school year.
Prep your child before break starts. A few weeks prior start talking about how they will have a “break” from school. Having a calendar as a visual is helpful for this. Start to probe them for ideas on what they would like to do during their break. Is there a classmate they have asked to get together with? What type of activities do they like? During Thanksgiving Break, I set aside time every evening after dinner to have had a “Drawing Competition”. This is something she is very interested in so she was very relaxed and this, in turn, provided opportunities for some great, meaningful conversations. Does your child like Legos? Why not have a Lego building competition? This can help with social skills, turn taking, flexibility, learning about winning and losing, and a host of other great skills we want them to learn.
Start checking out what’s going on in your community during the holiday season. Some places are now offering “Quiet” times to help support people with Autism being comfortable in large settings without the sensory overload that can come with it. Lots of cities have monthly publications aimed at parents that list what’s going on in your area during the month. Things like train rides, hiking, walking a neighborhood to look at lights, and going to a movie together (or creating a “Movie Theatre” in your own front room!) can be great incentives for children to relax and explore the world around them at their pace.
Start off your break with a schedule, visuals are always helpful! Have your child help you create this schedule and post it somewhere they will see it daily. Pool all your ideas you and your family have brainstormed and get them on the calendar! Knowing what they are going to be doing ahead of time will not only help their anxiety, but it also gives you the time and flexibility to make changes to the schedule if needed.
These are just a few suggestions to help your Winter Break go smoothly and to help create an environment of fun and calm. I hope you all have a wonderful week and Shine On!