How to make better weekends with autistic kids

Weekends can be tricky times for autistic kids – they are out of routine and they’re tired from the week. So how do you create better weekends for autistic kids?

What makes weekends tricky?

You might think that school mornings are the worst. It’s mornings of rushing out the door and hurrying kids to get ready for school. But weekends are their own special category when living with autistic children.

  1. The weekend is less routine and unscheduled compared to a school day. For kids that like routine, sameness and feeling some control over what’s happening, weekends can be unknown and unexpected.
  2. Kids are tired on the weekend. They’ve just spent 5 days at school during the week using up their social energy being around people and being attentive in class. Now they are tired and grumpy and need to recharge on the weekend.
  3. You’re with them at home together all day with no escape or break time. On a school day, you all separate and spend time apart. On a weekend, annoying siblings and parents are around 24-7 with no respite away from each other.

All these things can lead to average weekends that, to be honest, exhaust you. Then you’re still tired, just in time for the new work week to start.

How to make weekends better for autistic kids

In addressing the three issues above, here are some suggestions for how to make weekends better. Not only for autistic kids, but to help parents stay sane too.

Make a schedule

Weekends are meant to be relaxing- this is often code word for unscheduled and out-of-routine.

Create a weekend routine by co-designing a schedule for the day. It can as tight or as loose as you like. But at the least have a list of activities (some preferred, and some required). So, go around the table and ask everyone what their requests are, and add those activities (including chores) to the schedule.

We have most success with doing any chores or errands in the morning. Then we plan preferred activities like reading or gaming in the afternoon.

Schedule rest and regulation breaks

A weekend full of busy social activities is unlikely to be successful with autistic kids. Instead, schedule rest times – perhaps by scheduling socially-draining activities or errands in the late morning and rest times in the afternoons.

Don’t forget to include regulation breaks. This might mean doing physical activity in the morning – like a playground visit, a bike ride, a bush walk or other physical activity. This proactive activity for regulation can help with maintaining a sensory diet, healthy physical activity, support weekend sleep, and regulate body energy to avoid meltdowns over the weekend.

Divide and conquer

Sometimes our autistic kids seem to save all their meltdowns and fights for the weekend…

We use two strategies to stay sane in the middle of meltdown-city.

  1. Divide and conquer
    Separating our two kids and removing one from the equation stops sibling fights and arguments. If it’s gone too far into meltdown territory and there’s no chance of talking through and problem solving as calm people, separation works. So, we might split up and do different errands, or take one for a bike ride and leave the other at home.
  2. Change the environment
    Sometimes the environment of home just isn’t working. This often happens when one of our autistic kids gets stuck in a loop of frustration, being upset, or being self-critical. They might be in tears, screaming, or just repeating a phrase or action in a loop. Getting out of the house helps. Also, we might go to the grandparents’ house, go to a playground, or escape to the public library. A change of scenery helps to reset and restore calm when words don’t work.

Better weekends for autistic kids

Check out some other ideas for making better weekends:

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