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Spring Break with a High Needs Kid

High needs kids always represent a special challenge. Considerations must be taken with them that need not be taken with any other child—and any parent of a high-needs child knows that you have to carefully weigh your choices and your opportunities before deciding what you’re going to do. Spring break is no exception.

Your high-needs child is likely used to a particular sort of routine. He rolls out of bed in the morning, eats breakfast, and gets started on his schoolwork. That’s the way his day works. When breaks roll around, however, he doesn’t have those touchstones. Maybe mom is sleeping a little bit later, so breakfast isn’t waiting on him when he wakes up. Maybe his usual chores aren’t an issue during spring break week. He certainly isn’t expected to continue to do schoolwork—and while this may be a relief for him, just like any other kid, it’s also a source of discomfort. What’s he supposed to do with himself? What can he expect of this new schedule? Since it’s temporary, he may not even have time to settle into a routine again before it’s jerked out from under him. What’s worse, he knows it!

If you want to help your high-needs kid cope with spring break with a minimum of meltdowns, there are a few things that you can do to help.

Keep to the routine as much as possible. Go ahead and get up close to your normal time. Fix breakfast, if that’s something you normally do. Get chores done by the normal time before you play. The less you stray from his normal routine, the more likely he is to stay settled.

Let him know what’s coming. Surprises are rarely a good thing with a high-needs kid. If you intend to go to the park, tell him. If you’re planning a field trip, let him know. If you’re up for a movie night, go ahead and tell him ahead of time what the movie is going to be so that he’s not hoping for one thing and ending up disappointed. Make a rough plan of what you intend to do over the course of spring break so that he knows what to expect.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you’ve said that you’re going to the park, go to the park—even if you don’t really feel like it. Promised a field trip? That means you’re going, even if you wake up with a stuffy, foggy head and the last thing you want to do is go anywhere. Planning a peaceful day at home? Stick to it—don’t just decide at the last minute that you want to go shopping. Try not to let time get away from you if that means that you aren’t going to be able to complete a promised activity, and remember that an extra hour at the park may not be worth the loss of his computer time when he gets home.

Keep your rules consistent. If bedtime is always at eight, bedtime should continue to be at eight. Need a later night? Warn him ahead of time that it’s coming—and be prepared for a meltdown. Do you allow a certain amount of “screen time” each day? Remember that even if you’re out and about, he will likely still want his screen time.

Don’t try to cram in too many chores. It’s easy to look at a break week as time to catch up on all the things that you haven’t been able to keep up with over the past few weeks. However, your high-needs kid is looking at this break as just that: a break. He doesn’t need to be jumping to keep up with chore demands all day, every day—and if you force him to do so, you’re likely asking for a meltdown.

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