yellow background with advent calendar pegged on a line
9 Jan

There needs to be a new advent calendar created for the back to school countdown!

It’s not an advent calendar for everyone, it’s for parents of children with additional needs who really struggle in the 6-7 week summer break (that’s about 42 days give or take depending on the school setting your child is in, and no, I am not counting!) It’s not about not wanting to spend time with your children, but for some families the lack of structure and routine of these very long holiday breaks can be a really stressful time.

It’s half way through the summer school holidays, Santa has come and gone, elf on the shelf is packed away, so many beautiful moments have been carved into our memories and photo albums. However, with the new year beginning it also means my son is in the middle of a mass abyss of no therapies or support, no sport, no Scouts or regular routines and the wheels have fallen off.

Don’t get me wrong, we keep a very structured and routine life. That’s how my son thrives. However when the summer school holidays start, all that structure and scaffolding that supports my son falls down around him and I can predict how that will affect him before it happens.


No summer morning sleep-ins at our house! Our entire household’s sleep has been affected, and when I say affected I mean our darling insomniac, who had only recently learnt to stay in his own bed, is now back to waking up at 4am every single morning. He is 8.5 years old and for many years survived on 2-4 hours of sleep a night. Despite all our gains and keeping a consistent bedtime routine, the school holidays have us all starting the day at 4am, (as opposed to 5am… but trust me that extra hour on the clock means everything!) And what I have learnt is that instead of fighting it, we go for family walks to watch the sunrise :) Other mornings it’s early brekkie and iPads for the win, while mum and dad get some extra sleep!

Sensory dysregulation 

My son’s profile is off the charts during school holidays, there is more spinning, more chewing of clothes and odd pieces of items and toys, and there is always a new thing to surprise us. On a recent beach holiday we prepped with a social story about the rules and safety while at the beach, going to and leaving the beach etc. What we didn’t anticipate was our son loving the waves crashing into his body, so much so that we couldn’t get him out of the water. He was also trying to get the really big set of waves out the back to crash on him. He’s a great swimmer in the pool, but we didn’t anticipate how much his body was needing that deep pressure and the waves were fulfilling that need. What we also learnt is to get the balance right, too much wave crashing sent him into mass dysregulation where his behaviour was becoming unsafe for him, us and other swimmers. Big lessons learnt. New beach social stories for next time. 

The big old A

It’s crept back in, but let’s face it, it never really left. Anxiety. My son’s anxiety about his upcoming new teacher, new classroom or which buddy/s will be in his class worries his beautiful mind and usually manifests in no sleep, despite all the transition work we put in with the school prior to school holidays. And let’s add Mums anxiety about what the year ahead is going to entail. I have managed this quite well, with the exception of excursions, school discos or assembly days, but it returns with the first few weeks of school and affects my sleep. Will I ever sleep again?

And then there’s the unpredictable…

These school holidays have gifted the return of some massive meltdowns in really unpredictable places and times, and some wonderful surprises. The surprise being ice skating, which was an outing for my youngest who is a neurotypical adventure seeker. What surprised us all was our autistic, cautious son took to his first time ice skating like a pro! Like his adventure thrill seeking sibling, he was fantastic with his balance and coordination (something his physiotherapist is going to love to hear!) and now he wants to get private lessons! 

Summer holidays come in all shapes and different sizes for autism families and I hope everyone is surviving with a few surprises here and there! With the few weeks that are left of the holidays, we will soak up the remainder of beach visits with a side of speech therapy homework, catch those magical sunrises and reinforce our transition back to school plan each night. I will thoroughly enjoy opening each window of my back to school advent calendar and look forward to the days of structure and routine again…and that extra hour of sleep!

By Nicole Hurley

Mother, Head of Fundraising & Partnerships at Autism Awareness Australia

For tips on how to support your child transitioning back to school read more here at Autism Awareness Australia.

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