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Kids love having a break from school, but the shift in routine can be very difficult for kids with sensory issues who struggle with transitions. They may be more anxious and have more trouble self-regulating their behavior because they do not have a sense of predictability as they usually do. Of course, kids need down time, but those with sensory processing disorder, or who have SPD and autism, also need more structure during vacations than other children do.
Stick to the usual bedtime. Sleepovers and late nights can be fun for some, but not all, children with sensory processing disorder. Kids with milder sensory issues and better self-regulation may be able to enjoy them as long as they are followed by several days of being eased back into the regular bedtime before school starts. Some sensory kids can not handle these huge changes in routine, however, and react very badly to such a disruption. If you do allow for late nights or sleepovers, host them at your house to ensure that the child does not stay up too late or wake up too early.
Keep them in the loop. If family will be visiting, mealtimes will be different, your child will be sleeping in a different bed, or you'll be attending a gathering of people, let your child know. Answer her questions about exactly what will be happening as this gives her a sense of predictability.
Make them a part of the decision making. While your child can not take charge of making the larger decisions, let her participate in decisions that directly affect her. Does she have to participate in every activity you have planned, or can she skip some or "put in an appearance" at others before she retreating to a situation she is more comfortable in? If you are traveling, can she pick which bed she will sleep in and bring her own pillow? The more of a sense of control she has, the easier it will be for her to tolerate the unpredictability in your plans and the unfamiliarity of new places or rare activities.
Get them outdoors. The transition to milder weather may feel strange to the child with sensory issues, and if he is used to staying indoors he may resist playing in the sunshine. Allow him to overdress for the weather if that makes him more comfortable, with the stipulation that getting sweaty means having to bathe or shower. Find fun reasons to be outside. Go ahead and take him to the movie he has been wanting to see, but follow it with a visit to a playground, woods, beach, river, or field where you can kick a ball around. Schedule a regular time for walking in nature if only for 20 minutes (in fact, studies have shown that a short nature walk has a calming effect on children with ADHD).
Structure the days and make a To Do list. Have your child awakened and eat breakfast at the usual time, then follow a written or picture To Do list of activities.
Explain sensory issues to caretakers. If someone else will be taking care of your child during the break, whether it is a relative, friend, grandmother, or someone else, fill them in on your child's sensory needs and what to do if your child becomes very uncomfortable and begins to show signs of distress, withdrawal or acting out.
Your child may not need a rigid routine, but a simple one that provides predictability and a sense of control can help her to be much calmer and relaxed this summer.
copyright (c) 2010 Nancy Peske