How to prepare for the routine change with your child over the summer holidays

With summer holidays just around the corner, many are getting excited for those six weeks of fun. But the holidays can also be an apprehensive time, with new transitions to deal with and structure seemingly out the window.

For children with complex disabilities, the holidays can be a difficult time to navigate, and so to for their parents/carers.  

Building a routine, with support of a visual timetable, in the holidays is an important tool, allowing children transition points within the day to regulate their emotions.

A visual timetable can be a daily, weekly or monthly overview of what you are planning, to ensure that children can feel prepared and know what is coming next. 

Here are our top tips on how to create a visual timetable, and other ways to help your child adjust to the change in routine.

A woman and a young person riding on adapted bikes side-by-side, along a path surrounded by greenery.

Use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) or photos to create your visual timetable

To fill out your visual timetable, try using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) cards, or photos of the activity you would like them to take part in.

For example, if you are going to have a film morning, take a picture of your actual TV. If you want to go on a trip to the park, take a picture of the actual park they’re going to.

This will help them understand, and associate the picture with the activity. 

Break up activities into small chunks

When building a routine, start by thinking of the day in small, manageable chunks.

If you try to fill every single hour, then you’ll be more stressed than when you started!

But by taking the time to ‘chunk’ the day, you’ll be able to make sure that your child knows what’s happening now, what’s coming next, and what they can prepare for for the next day.

Preparation is key, and putting in the extra time now will allow you to enjoy the holidays as a family.  

Get support from other people in your child’s life

Emotions can be heightened in the run-up to the holidays, so don’t worry if your child is a little more excited, scared, angry than normal – it’s totally expected!

Speak to your child’s key worker, teacher, or play leader about how they are in their setting, and what you can do to support at home.

More often than not, they’re nervous because school feels a little different (with events like sports day, end of term parties and the changing weather). A social story every night before bed will help to calm those nerves.  

Use social stories to help your child adjust to new experiences

A social story is a learning tool that breaks down difficult concepts, such as transitions, into simpler ideas with the use of pictures to support.

Alongside the story, share your visual timetable for the routine you’ve planned for summer with your child. The more prepared in advance they are for the holidays, the easier that transition will be.

The holidays are an amazing time to have fun as a family, through time spent at home together, to those days out at the local park.

Soak up all the good times, but don’t worry if there are more challenging days – everyone has them! Make sure you can chat over these days with a cup of tea with a friend, or chat to one of Sense’s early intervention team – we’re always happy to help.  

Find out more about support for disabled children

Visit our information and advice hub all about supporting children with complex disabilities.