The Gift Of Summertime Chaos

The kids enjoying summer fun

The kids enjoying summer fun

Since entering the ranks of the unemployed two weeks ago, my daily routine has changed dramatically. The idea of abandoning routine altogether is tempting but dangerous. I am forcing myself to wake up at the same time, get dressed in respectable clothes, and do productive stuff. I am keeping more or less the same working hours that I did before, only without the long commute. Being unemployed is surprisingly hard work.

That being said, I am enjoying some flexibility that I didn’t have before. I can go running without getting up at an ungodly hour of the morning. I can wear sweats every day. They’re nice sweats that I’m perfectly comfortable being seen in public in, but they’re clothes that wouldn’t be allowed at my previous place of work. I can turn on the TV when I want to take a break.

Above all, I am making the most of getting time to myself, without coworkers, kids and the husband. Don’t get me wrong, I liked my coworkers, and I love my kids and my husband. But I kind of like myself too, and I’m finally getting to spend more time with myself.

That will be changing very soon, of course. The kids only have two and a half weeks before school lets out for the summer, and at that point, my period of blissful solitude is going to come to an end. I will still keep my working hours as best I can, but I anticipate frequent breaks – both voluntary and involuntary.

The kids generally never have a problem with the transition from school to summer. I try to keep the semblance of a routine in place for them. They get up at more or less the same time each day, they are expected to get dressed instead of lounging around in their PJ’s, and things like mealtimes, snacks and bedtimes remain unchanged. We do plan some activities for them over the summer, but for the most part, their time is their own.

The bigger challenge comes when it’s time to go back to school in the fall. At least, it’s a challenge for George. James takes to the new school year just fine. He is excited about seeing friends who have been away for the summer, and he likes the thrill of being in a new grade.

For George, though, it is very difficult. He doesn’t mind school too much, and going from this school year to the next, he will be in the same room with the same teacher and for the most part, the same kids. But the summer break is long, and by the time it’s over, George has to be reacquainted with the whole school routine. It’s hard for a child with autism who likes to have things just so.

One of our most important summer activities is therefore the back-to-school social story: a personalized book that tells the story of George getting onto a bus and going to school. We read the book with George over and over during the last weeks of the summer break, with the hope that the new school routine won’t come as a complete surprise to him.

And what does the summer mean to me, now that I will have to spend time focusing on the next steps in my professional life? It means additional chaos, for sure. It means that I will have to repeatedly stop what I’m doing to wipe up a spill, mediate a dispute or set up a game in the back yard.

It means that I will be here, with my children. It will be the best summer ever, and I cannot wait.



7 Hotel-Stay Survival Tips For Autism Families


There used to be a time when the idea of a “relaxing weekend away” would give me the horrors. I tended to be vehemently opposed to going anywhere, because for me, these trips were anything but relaxing. Humans in general are creatures of habit. Humans with autism are gods of habit. I used to dread taking my son George out of his regular habitat. There were always so many logistics to worry about, like safety, making sure I brought enough stuff to maintain a semblance of familiarity, and dealing with the inevitable disruptions to routine. I was more exhausted after the “relaxing weekend away” than I had been to begin with.

Now I am immensely grateful for those stressful weekends and vacations of days gone by. I have, through the process of living and learning, reached a point where weekends away with the family can be truly enjoyable for everyone, even for the child with autism. Even for me.

Here are a few pearls of wisdom that I have picked up over the years:

1. Book your hotel as far ahead of time as you can, just so you will know where you are staying. Then print off pictures of the hotel and make a social story for your child. Most hotels have an abundance of pictures online, and many will gladly email you pictures if you tell then what you need them for.

2. Pack things that are familiar to your child. Toys and books that your child likes are essential, but consider other items as well. Maybe he likes to go to sleep with the same pillow every night, or perhaps he has a cup or a plate that he is attached to. If your child has DVD’s that he likes to watch, bring them along, but also bring a device that you can play them on.

3. When you get to the hotel, tell the manager about your child’s disability. If the hotel staff are aware, most of them will go out of their way to take extra special care of your family during your stay. During our recent stay in Niagara Falls, the hotel manager arranged to have a special lock installed high up on the door to ensure that our son would not wander out into the hallways.

4. Many kids with autism are computer geeks. Find out about Internet access in your hotel room. A surprising number of hotels charge extra per device per day, and the charges can rack up really quickly. If you ask, you might be able to get complimentary Internet access, and your child will be able to access the online videos and games that he is used to.

5. Allow your child to explore the hotel room. Yes, it can be annoying to have a kid walking around turning the lights on and off, fiddling with the curtains and running water into the bathtub. But your child is in a new environment, and he needs the exploration to create some familiarity.

6. Realistically, you will be doing many things differently to the way you do them at home, but maintain whatever semblance of routine that is possible. If you do at least some of the same things at the same times, your child will feel more secure.

7. Accept that some things may not go as planned. Even in familiar settings, life with a child with autism can be unpredictable. There could well be difficult moments during your vacation, no matter how much you prepare yourself and your child. Instead of planning out a detailed itinerary for your trip, try a day-to-day approach to give yourself the flexibility to change direction if you need to.

Do you have any tips for staying in hotels with special needs children? Please add them in the comments!

(Photo credit: LVLights. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)