If you are reading this then that’s great, it means you have survived too lol!
It will come as no surprise that many of us find the summer holidays to be the toughest of all the school holidays! Not least because of the duration of them!
For us, being in a Specialist Independent School, this also means that we have longer holidays than mainstream schools and for us the summer one is almost 8 weeks long!
That’s 8 very long weeks of changes to routine, trying to find something to do for every minute of every hour of every day, entertaining and keeping occupied (without breaking the bank), with just little ole me doing it all alone!
So why else are the summer holidays so tough?
The Team Around The Child Has Vanished!
During term time, my daughter’s class consists of a minimum of 2:4 (staff to children) ratio, which increases to 1:1, or more so, should the need arise. With these sorts of ratios, school have, what I would class, the ‘luxury’ of being able to ‘tag team’ their involvement and interaction. If one member of staff is not flavour of the minute or if any child is struggling, they are able to mix it up introducing a ‘new face’ to support that child in whatever way is needed and also calm any given situation.
I really do believe this to be a ‘luxury’ for school! As in the holidays, whilst it’s 1:1 (note though that there is no opportunity to increase ratio as required), the difference in school is that they have that team around the child and not just one person, ie the parent holding the fort 24/7. Can you imagine if teachers and teaching assistants were employed to do a 24/7 shift indefinitely? It wouldn’t be legal! However, as parents we are expected to do just that!
I’ve decided I NEED a TEAM! But, yes I know, I’m not that naïve to know that this, sadly, is not an option for parents.
24/7 Attention and Entertainment
For many children with additional needs they require 24/7 attention and entertainment, and my youngest is no different. However, I do question whether this is even physically or emotionally possible? In my experience the answer is a most definite NO!
Most children get ‘bored’ in the holidays and I can certainly remember my elder two complaining that they were ‘bored’, however they had each other to play with, unlike my youngest. There is a 10 year age gap between my middle daughter and my youngest, so effectively my youngest is an only child, so it is no real surprise that she needs my full attention and craves company.
In addition to this, and if you have an autistic child you may experience the same as me, there is the constant need to know ‘what we are doing today?’ (from the second you open your eyes), ‘what are we doing before that?’, ‘what are we doing afterwards’ etc etc. It leaves your brain frazzled believe me!
Given that 24/7 attention and entertainment is IMPOSSIBLE when you are a one man (or female) band, I have been working on ‘independence’ for the past couple of years and trying to get my daughter to amuse herself and indeed try and come up with ideas herself of what she could do. I’m not going to lie, we are not there yet, however there has been some slight improvement and she will be able to do this occasionally but only when her mood is, how I describe as, stable.
What I mean by ‘mood stability’ is that she is in a place where she is feels emotionally safe and content. No feelings of anxiety, no feelings of anger or irritability.
If her mood isn’t stable, then that’s when I find her NEED for my undivided attention is very much heightened. Even to the point where she will need me to be literally by her side no matter what she or I are doing, be it sitting on the sofa, in the toilet, in the bath or wherever.
As parents of toddlers you dream about the day you can go to the toilet without interruption, well guess what? I am still dreaming about this 10 years on lol!
The summer holidays for many families are financially crippling! However, I’m not just talking about the cost of activities or the cost of entertaining.
For us, I am also talking about the constant want – to buy a drink, get lunch out (albeit a sandwich), buy an ice cream, get a coffee (this has been an obsession this summer for some reason, despite knowing that I won’t waste money on a Costa or Starbucks!), go out for dinner etc etc! The need to buy this, that and the other is constant.
Which individually doesn’t sound much, however when you have a child that you can’t go ANYWHERE with, without knowing there will be constant requests for food, these all add up to an incredible amount of money, spare money that we just don’t have.
I even try to pre-empt this and will try to plan things to avoid this, but unfortunately even that isn’t fool proof.
In our world we are unable to go anywhere without these constant requests, this may well be due to my daughter’s OCD, or a sensory need, or a PDA thing, or her medication – who knows but what I do know is, that it is constant and definitely guaranteed!
‘Friendships’ have been, by far, the hardest challenge this summer. My daughter heartbreakingly doesn’t have, what I would call, any ‘true friends’.
Whilst being in a Specialist Independent School has definitely had it’s benefits, sadly, due to the cohort of the students there it also means that ‘friendships’ are even more trickier than they are generally.
Not only due to being autistic and having additional complex mental health conditions are friendships hard to make in school, but also because my daughter is in a class of four and the other three are boys. Therefore there are no other girls to connect with and form friendships.
Having no friends at school has meant that the ‘friends’ she has had over in the summer have been a mixture (less than a handful) of old mainstream friends and daughter’s of friends of mine.
The difficulty with having no ‘true’ friends – the sort of friendships that are made when your child starts in reception class not knowing anyone and working their way through the Primary school years, with the same people, growing and learning together, forming those ‘real’ friendships – is that when you find that ‘friend’, you tend to latch on which then becomes very intense and almost obsessional.
Not all children are comfortable with the intensity that comes with this and naturally become irritated.
One of the difficulties for us, particularly with friendships formed in this way and not built up over time as they are in mainstream, is that they don’t understand my daughter’s needs. They don’t understand why my daughter gets jealous of their other friends. They don’t understand that it is because she can’t cope with sharing them with anyone else.
She also struggles not to get angry when they don’t respond to her calls and texts immediately, believing that they are ‘ignoring’ her – the feeling of being abandoned by them. So she will keep calling, keep texting, keep FaceTiming until they get fed up with her and it all explodes into a big argument. Ultimately then falling out with yet another bridge that has been burnt, resulting in my daughter being ‘blocked’.
Ultimately leading straight back to the heart breaking fact that she has no friends.
This has a major impact on my daughter’s feeling of self-worth, self-esteem and confidence and quite often will leave her with the thought that her life is not worth living.
What’s Needed To Make and Sustain a Friendship?
To make and sustain friends, my daughter, first and foremost. needs them to be tolerant. Tolerant of who she is. She also needs them to be tolerant of how she interprets social situations, or more to the point how she can misinterpret a situation.
Autistic children often find reading social cues difficult. For example, not knowing if someone is joking or not, or being unable to read their body language, or being able to interact in a balanced way. Additionally, often autistic/PDA children cannot see beyond their own interest or their own agenda and this can also make social interactions difficult.
Another must is having a friend that can always use a calm tone and not get annoyed or show their own emotions. This is a massive ask I know, as of course other children are naturally going to have their own thoughts, comments, emotions and agenda. And why shouldn’t they?
Despite all of these, it still doesn’t stop the natural and understandable desire to have friends. To invite them over here, because home is where she feels most comfortable. Which in itself is not a problem but this very quickly escalates into ‘can they come for dinner, can they come for a sleepover?’. Whatever we do, there is ALWAYS an extension to the request.
Planning For More!
It doesn’t appear to matter what we have done or how meticulously I have tried to time things ie deliberately arranging to do something in the afternoon, thinking that if we can get through the morning and we have something planned for the afternoon then we would be on the home stretch! However, sadly my daughter THEN needs/wants to plan something else for the evening as well!
Literally, if I went along with EVERYTHING I would not have a minute to myself! This is both physically and mentally exhausting!
If we do arrange a sleepover, the problem is that, if at the time, the one current friend isn’t able to make it, this quickly spirals into ‘who else can we ask?’. How do you explain, without upsetting your child or feeding into their self-negativity, that there is NO ONE else. We tend to go down the, very short, list and quickly get to the point where I found myself inviting my mum’s dog over, just to have someone/something to invite! It truly breaks my heart.
The Change in Routine and Pushing of Boundaries
Whilst generally speaking we cope fairly well with the change in routine (because it means no school!) and my daughter looks forward to the school holidays, however this doesn’t come without some additional difficulties.
In the holidays most parents relax the boundaries don’t they, like allowing their child to stay up a bit later or have a lay in.
However, the pushing to stay up later and to have her phone for longer becomes a problem. The request to have her phone longer has been particularly challenging over these holidays, as despite being allowed ‘extra time’, this is often never long enough and the battle commences. Which has often led to meltdown and me left wondering why I agreed to ‘extra time’ in the first place, as was ultimately just delaying the inevitable!
In addition to all of the above, the other difficulty for us during the holidays was that we had, yet another, medication change. Sadly, this had a very negative effect which resulted in increased aggression, violence and volatility, not least it also led to our first ever incident where my daughter deliberately cut herself.
Whilst self-harming is sadly not a new thing, cutting herself is. She wanted to ‘prove how difficult life is’. This totally broke my heart.
Thankfully, this was fairly quickly addressed, the deterioration had been caused by too much serotonin in her body, and one of her other medications reduced.
SEND parenting can be tough and school holidays can be super tough! So it’s no surprise that parents can suffer ‘Parent BURNOUT’. Burnout is not to be ignored as can have a devastating effect on the whole family. If you are ever suffering from this, please reach out! Reach out to friends, family, professionals, your online community, anyone! It’s not a sign of weakness or failure, it’s a sign that you have been ‘strong for too long’ (to quote a phrase).
Back To School!
WE MADE IT!!!! We made it through another summer holidays!! Don’t get me wrong I love my daughter to the moon and back but if I’m honest, having ‘me time’ back is just the best feeling! You don’t actually really realise the enormity of what FREEDOM feels like until you drop your child back off to school!