The holidays are meant to be such a relaxing time. Time as a family. Time to rebalance. Unfortunately for many families, especially those with neurodivergent children, holidays can be a much less relaxing time. Time without respite. Time without much-needed support. For some, even exclusion. The Easter holidays become more about surviving, than relaxing.
But first of all, a little explanation of the definition of neurodivergent, the seemingly new buzzword. A child who has a neurological difference, i.e. a brain which works differently than the societal ‘norm’ (neurotypical) is neurodivergent. A group of neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals are neurodiverse, but a group of all neurodivergent, or all neurotypical individuals is not neurodiverse, because there is not a diverse range within that group. Neurodivergence is also not a learning disability.
Common types of neurodiversity are:
- Autism, or Autism Spectrum Conditions
- ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder
- Dyspraxia, or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)
But there are many more.
Whilst the thought of no alarm and school run seem like a luxury. Unfortunately for a lot of neurodiverse children, the lack of routine can wreak havoc with executive function and emotional regulation. So for me, the best thing I can do for Sam (and me) is to try and stick to a routine. So yes I won’t have the school run to do, but I do still encourage a holiday routine.
I try and make sure Sam wakes up at the same time each day (although it is a much more relaxed wake-up than during term time). We still eat meals at roughly the same time each day. I try and schedule TV/screen time so that it is limited where possible – this is generally quite easy for Sam as he’s not a big gamer or anything. Look for a range of activities (at home and outside) to do during the day, and lots of places now offer SEND sessions. Encourage calmer activities after tea such as movie night, baking, den building with screen time or books etc. And generally, he still goes to bed not much later than during term time.
The other issue with a lot of neurodivergent children is that their school routine is built to use a lot of their energy during the school day. Neurodivergent children will use up a huge amount of their energy just doing what neurotypical children take for granted. Imagine the energy it takes a child with dyslexia to read a question, compared to a neurotypical child. Or the energy it takes a child with ADHD to focus and concentrate on a lesson, compared to a neurotypical child. Or the mental load it takes a non-verbal child to communicate their needs.
So whilst, during the holidays, it is nice to give our kids a well-deserved break from that load. It is really important to try and ensure that our kids are still entertained appropriately. I wrote a post for York Mumbler with ideas for activities with the kids during the Easter holidays 2023 which are all SEND-friendly.
Sam for example requires a lot of activities that will use up his physical energy, whether it’s sports holidays camps or outdoor walks etc. Another child may need to continue their occupational therapy exercises or require lots of sensory input. These things are much harder to ensure they happen during the holidays for a variety of reasons (cost, location, availability etc.). This then brings up the point I made earlier about exclusion and how many activities, holiday clubs and leisure clubs do not cater to neurodivergent children. Even when an activity or class is SEND-friendly, the environment or journey may not be. For some children even just trying something/going somewhere new can be a huge emotional upheaval.
What I’ve learnt…
For parents of ND kids, holidays are a constant battle of ensuring that we stick to a routine, whilst also allowing a little leeway. Ensuring our child is stimulated enough, but not overstimulated. You can plan down to the nth degree, but it can all fall apart in one second flat if your child has become overstimulated. I’ve had to learn to always have a rough plan (chillin’ at home is something we rarely get), but also to be able to change plans at really short notice. For me, years ago, I really struggled with it all. Now, knowing my brain works differently too, means although it goes against everything that I ‘want’ to do, I know that actually, it means Sam is happy and stimulated appropriately.
And that means I am doing something right. It really isn’t easy and right now, holidays are definitely hard work. I don’t always get it right, do any of us? But for the most part, we get there. So here’s my shoutout to all the parents of ND kids out there right now, who are finding Easter holidays 2023 more about survival than enjoyment.
One more week to go…
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