Supporting Your Child Through March Break

March Break is an exciting time. However, it can also be stressful, particularly for neurodivergent individuals. Whether your family is travelling, staying home, or trying something new this March Break, any change in routine can be challenging for your neurodivergent loved ones. Advocates call for environmental adaptations to help these individuals face everyday challenges. With this neurodiversity-affirming lens in mind, we have put together some strategies families can use to support their autistic and neurodivergent children this March Break. Whatever your family has planned, we hope these tips help your little ones have a comfortable and enjoyable week!

Supports for A Change in Routine

  • Modifying demands: It is important to give your children additional support to follow instructions they may not be familiar with or may be hearing from new people. Even if your child can communicate with speech, they may benefit from visual communication supports (e.g., visual schedules, choice boards) in challenging situations.
  • Social Stories: This is a supportive tool that describes a specific scenario, using pictures and words, including what your child can expect and how to handle the situation (i.e., what will happen and what the child can say/do).
    • Examples of social stories can be found online or created with the help of your ACT SLP
  • Rehearse: Help your child prepare for new and unfamiliar places/activities by practicing beforehand. Try to visit a new place before the day your child will be going, so they have the chance to familiarize themselves before the big day. If a visit is not possible, a call with the people you will see, and a practice run of some activities you may do together could help ease your child’s anxiety relating to this change in routine and expectations.
  • Comfort items: Comfort or safe foods are those that your child finds consistent and reliable and will eat even if having a picky eating day. Ensure your child has access to things (e.g., toys, clothing, etc.) that are familiar and help them feel safe during the change in routine.

Family Vacation

While a family vacation can be a wonderful experience, it can also present challenges for neurodivergent children. Here are some specific things your family can do to help ease these challenges:

  • Social Story: You can read a social story with your child before the trip that includes the steps that will happen (e.g., going to the airport), expectations (e.g., standing in line, always staying with your parents), and actions (e.g., if it is too loud, you can wear headphones).
  • Rehearse: If possible, take your child to visit the airport or place you will stay on your vacation prior to the actual trip. Try to request seats on the plane that will allow your child to move around if needed.
    • Practice activities that may be challenging for your child like standing in line, rolling a suitcase, or getting ready for the beach.
    • Show your child photos of the people you will go to visit or try to schedule a call with them before the trip.
  • Comfort Items: Ensure your child has access to several familiar and comforting items/food they can hold, play with, and eat on the flight or car ride.
  • Sensory Adaptations: Consider your child’s sensory needs and how you can help them adapt to bright lights, loud sounds, or new smells. For example, you can cover the back window of the car with a shade to help block out bright light on a road trip.
  • Modify Demands: Use a choice board with visuals to offer options to your child during travel (e.g., pictures of their favourite games/food/toys; sensory items like fidgets, chewelry, or headphones; actions like songs or hugs etc.)

Camp Program/Away from Home

Participating in day camps and other programs outside of home or school can be stressful and challenging, even if your child loves the subject of the program. Here are some suggestions to help your child thrive away from home this March Break:

  • Sensory Adaptations: Talk to the program coordinator and advocate for your child’s needs. If your child benefits from body breaks to move around or a quiet space to decompress, discuss this with the staff.
  • Rehearse: Try to set up a time your child can go explore the space or meet their counsellor before the program starts.
    • Ask program facilitators to send photos of the spaces and items your child will be using so you can help prepare your child for what to expect.
  • Modify Demands: Use a visual schedule so your child is aware of what will happen throughout the day while they are attending camp or program.
  • Social Story: Read a social story with your child about going to camp, meeting new people, and whatever activities they will be participating in at the program. Make sure to include things they can say or do if needed (e.g., call a parent, go for a walk, take a break in a quiet space etc.).
  • Comfort Items: Ensure your child has a variety of safe foods they can eat throughout the day.
    • Allow your child to bring a toy or comfort item with them to help ease stress while away from home.

Staying at Home

While your child may feel more comfortable at home in a familiar environment, this disruption to their normal routine can still be challenging.

  • Social Story: If parents are working from home, read a social story about expectations (e.g., closing the office door or staying quiet during meetings) and what your child can do while they wait (e.g., access preferred toys, eat a snack, watch a show, play with a sibling).
  • Rehearse: If a new caregiver is coming to watch your child, schedule a meeting with the person beforehand. Try using a visual schedule with a photo of the caregiver to let your child know when they will be coming and leaving.
  • Modify Demands: Provide choices of different activities your child can do to occupy themselves at home.

It can be challenging to navigate the changes in routines associated with holidays. We hope that these tips and tricks serve you and your child well this March Break.

Lauren MacAulay and Jane Woodworth
ACT Learning Centre Speech-Language Pathologists