Autism and School Holidays

Image of an empty school classroom. Next to the image is a title that reads Autism- Autism and School Holidays www.chatterfox.co.uk

I've always hated half term. As a pupil I hated having a break from school despite it being a break from the bullying and the intense anxiety it was also a break from schoolwork, homework and structure. I found schoolwork and homework incredibly soothing. Having something to work on helped me channel my energy into something productive and it helped distract me from my anxious thoughts. When I'm working on something I commit to it so fully that I become oblivious to the outside world, even forgetting to eat and drink. When half term would come around I'd do any homework immediately and then be stuck with just me, myself and my thoughts for the remainder of the holidays. 

My mum worked throughout school holidays and we weren't in a financial position to go for days out and holidays and because we didn't have a car even going to the neighbouring town was difficult. It was very fortunate that my grandparents would take me to the coast for the day but during my teenage years when my anxiety was at it's peak I would be unable to go as I found the crowd, sounds and smells overwhelming. I was alone for a lot of the holidays, hiding in my room.

Once I left school the half term holidays were still a difficult time. Though I didn't rely on school work to keep me distracted anymore I did rely on the school system to create a sense of predictability in my life. During term time pedestrian and traffic patterns are predictable. I knew that between 8am and 10am there would be a high level of activity outside. The same between 3pm and 6pm. When you enter school holidays there isn't that predictability. Everywhere seems to be busy all of the time. There isn't a quiet time to go out and there are often groups of teenagers socialising around the streets and near shops. I'm not saying they are there to cause trouble or be aggressive, I genuinely think I have some sort of PTSD from when I was bullied. I can't walk past groups of school age children without becoming panicked. I know I am a grown adult and they will barely notice me but my heart rate rises, I start to sweat and I avoid them and walk the other way if possible despite logically knowing they won't hurt me. This occurs a lot more during half term, during term time it is easier to avoid the times that schoolchildren will be around. 

Now I'm a parent and half term is the hardest it's ever been. I have to cope with all the disruptions I've mentioned above, the groups of kids, how busy everywhere gets and the lack of predictability but I also have to cope with my home life being disrupted too. That sounds like a horrendous statement and like I don't want to be around my daughter but that couldn't be further from the truth, I miss my daughter when she's at preschool but the three days she's at school allows me time to work on my blog, clean the house and work on my own mental wellbeing and I do all theses things in a structured way.

A solid routine is the backbone of my entire existence. It's how I make life predictable and how I manage to function. Routine keeps impromptu surprises at bay and helps me avoid having to deal with sudden change. I know what I'm supposed to be doing and I understand the social skills expected from me if I stick to my routine. Half term doesn't just destroy my routine, it absolutely obliviates it. 

There's no school run, which for some means a lie in and no rushing around but for me it makes the mornings feel aimless and frustrating. In term time Iris has two week days at home, just me and her.  I love these days. We play, learn and get outside on those days and I find it manageable because it's predictable. Throughout the holidays I'm usually at the mercy of other people. Iris loves sleepovers at both sets of grandparents, she loves days out with her auntie and play dates with friends. The issue is that other people don't need as much planning and preparation as I do. I'm never sure what each day has in store throughout the holidays and I never want to say no to an opportunity for Iris to go out and have fun so I just kind of sit in this perpetual state of anxiety. 

Iris is a very active child that needs a lot of input. I adore how much she loves to learn but it can be hard to keep her entertained when you don't drive and Daddy is at work. I hate that I can't take us out for the day and that the usual places we walk to when she's not at pre-school are overwhelmingly busy during school holidays. Public transport has always been a challenge for me and it's even more anxiety provoking thanks to Covid. Thankfully I'm quite creative and thinking up activities to do at home comes quite naturally to me, though I even play in a structured way, choosing arts and crafts over role play and pretending.

As our first six week holiday approaches I'm a little afraid that I'm not going to be able to fill our time in a balanced way. I want Iris to have happy memories of fun filled holidays but I need to make sure I take care of my mental wellbeing too. It's going to be so easy for me to reach burnout by the end of the first week especially as I scroll through social media and convince myself that I'm not being fun enough/haven't spent enough etc.

I think the key thing to remember as I approach my first six week holiday as a parent is that this is my experience. If I need to create a routine to survive it then so be it. I'm always going to be an autistic mum, my needs are always going to matter, not above Iris's but alongside hers. I can't ignore my anxiety around groups of school age children. I can't force myself to be able to deal with crowds and queues. Autism doesn't have an off button and whilst this upsets me I know that as Iris gets older, she'll understand why our holidays were a bit repetitive and why we didn't travel very far but I hope she remembers that I tried my best to make them fun and enjoyable for her and for myself. 

If you're heading into the school holidays I hope you have a lovely time. If you've got any tips or advice or fun things to do then please feel free to link them below: 

Thanks for Reading,

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1 comment:

  1. I can relate to all this espeically doing homework straightaway and also hated holidays. I am a big fan of structure, gvies me a sense to control. Even though hate the social aspect of dropping my kids of at school. I have some things in place but also not. Hubby teaches so intense as it can be but ott for eveyone. Kids enjoy time to relax. X

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