Happy holiday—at home or away!


For many of us, what we love about the summer holiday season is being able to throw our working week schedule away. Our time doesn’t have to be structured and planned the way it is for much of the year. However, for many people with Autism it is that familiar structured routine that helps them through the day. Whether it is a holiday at home or away, this article explores some of the ways we can help make things easier for a child or adult with Autism during this time of change.

Out and about from home

Many families might, by virtue of their own domestic habits, want to retain parts of their daily routine during the holiday period. Whether it is breakfast time, or their bathroom routine, the person with Autism might appreciate it all staying the same, regardless of what’s happening for the rest of the day. Let them see what will be happening by presenting a mini schedule in format according to their ability to understand. This doesn’t mean that your holiday should be scheduled hour by hour. Rather, it’s just a reminder of the way that information presented visually can be so helpful for people with Autism—we can let them see what will be happening and help allay any anxiety about what lies ahead. Keep in mind, any visual support can be effective even if only created by line drawing or a few written words.

A great preventative!

By presenting information visually (together with the spoken word) we can often avoid confusion. Remember that people with Autism are often very literal in their understanding of what is said. A difficult situation might have been avoided when one young man became upset when he was told they were going to the beach and they stopped at the supermarket on the way. Because he hadn’t been made aware that they would stop at the supermarket he was confused and not happy.  While we can’t always avoid an upset, sometimes a little visual information can be a great preventative.

Show them the way

Image of Social Story with text and picturesFor the child (or young adult) who is able to read and understand, consider providing an outline of part of the day ahead:

  • Have breakfast
  • Put your swimming things in your bag.
  • We are going to see Nanna first.
  • Then we will go to the beach for a swim.
  • We can have lunch at C Blu.
  • Then we go home.

Share a social story

You might also consider a social story to provide information about the holiday period. In the early 1990s Carol Gray created a specific format for writing Social Stories™ and the concept has been widely used since that time. A social story can be helpful to address a specific situation which might present difficulties for a person with Autism. The story is personalised and presented in a way that will be easily understood by the reader, with or without pictures according to their ability to understand the message.

Family at the beach

For example:

I am going to the beach for a holiday.

I will take my own special bag for all of my things.

We will go in the car. It’s a long way.

I can have my iPad and 6 books in the car.

We will stay in a Motel near the beach for 5 days.

I can go swimming every day.

I’m a very good swimmer. My Mum and Dad will be happy to see me swimming.

My Mum and dad will keep me safe.

I will have a lovely holiday.

When we get home I will see Charlotte and Big Cat Smokey. I love Charlotte and Smokey.

I shall be happy to be home after my holiday. Charlotte and Smokey will be happy I’m home.


With Carol Gray’s format, the ‘story’ is essentially reassuring for the reader and in some way reflects the perspective of others. Gray’s website at www.carolgraysocialstories.com  provides lots of information about creating social stories and how to use them.

Going to new places with a holiday book

The holiday period is generally an especially busy time for families, even more so if travel is to be included. And a journey to unknown parts could cause added stress for the person with Autism. Some preparation is called for. Maybe a sibling could help their brother or sister who has Autism make a book about the journey ahead and new places they will be visiting. In preparing the person for the changes they can be shown how good those changes can be. Depending on the person’s ability, either a simple picture book or one with written text could show what lies ahead; and they might help to create the holiday book.

Some suggestions of things to include:

  • Things to see: from the internet or by cutting and pasting pictures and other information from travel brochures.  If the family has been to the holiday location before, use photos of a previous visit to talk through your anticipated enjoyment at the same location.
  • Things to do: talk about the things you will be doing, with pictures to facilitate understanding.
  • The weather: if it’s likely to be different from home, talk about the changes with appropriate pictures. Include pictures/information about different clothes suitable for the weather.
  • The food: include pictures/information about different food that they might like to eat on holiday.
  • The culture: for the more able person this provides considerable scope to show differences. Could include some simple phrases of different languages.
  • The people:  prepare the person by showing photos of people who will be going with you on holiday and those they are likely to see.
  • Maps: people with Autism often enjoy reading and looking at maps. This is a great opportunity to get out the map and show them the route to the holiday destination.
  • Coming home: towards the end of the holiday use a calendar, count down process to show when you will be going home to both reassure that home life will be resumed and ensure that holiday’s end is not a sudden, upsetting jolt.

Providing information in a way that the child or adult can understand could help them immensely to cope with the changing scenes and holiday activities ahead and concluding.  

Summer holidays present a period quite different to any other time of the year. Keeping in mind the changed environment and atmosphere of the holiday season, a few adjustments to the supports that we provide for our people with Autism throughout the year can make a positive difference.

Let’s aim to make the holiday period a very happy time for everyone!

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