The season of summer is well underway.
As we enter August, children everywhere across Ireland will be seeking to make the most of what’s left of their summer holidays, just as their parents and carers may be thinking ahead to school preparation.
That often leaves us, as brothers and sisters, to watch out for our autistic siblings for much of what’s also our summer holidays. It can be stressful task. Sometimes it can feel pretty overwhelming. Ultimately though, however much we may feel inconvenienced by our caring duties, our siblings rely on us. They look to us for guidance on a range of day-to-day issues and problems. From deciding what to put on for tea, using the bus, budgeting or deciding what to do on a weekend – there’s a certain safety in asking us for our siblings.
This post explains some of the ways which you can look out for your autistic sibling this summer, outlining how to prepare for days out, what you can do to put a safety net in place and who you can talk to for support.
ALWAYS PREPARE FOR EMERGENCIES
This needn’t involve fretting over the worst-case scenario every time you go out on an outing together, but it always pays to have people and plans in place in case something goes wrong. Some of the chief concerns for autistic siblings, regardless of their age, are their wandering away and getting lost. To that end, you should set out a few things before heading off:
- If your sibling has their own mobile phone, make sure both of you have each another’s numbers. Include your parents’, other siblings’ and trusted friends’ numbers as well if you can’t contact one another.
- Don’t chance going off the grid from a low battery on a day trip. Before you leave the house, charge both of your devices as much as you can to 100%.
- Give your sibling an Identification Card with your contact information on it and ensure that it’s kept in a secure place on their person. They can use this themselves or show it to someone they can approach for help. Such cards include those from Family Carers Ireland.
- Agree to a meeting point if either of you get separated during the day or can’t find your way back to one another.
- Make sure that you’ve a recent photo of your sibling on hand to show staff or the emergency services like the Gardaí if they go missing.
COACH THEM ON HOW TO GET AROUND AND ASK FOR HELP
Communications challenges are one of the chief difficulties faced by individuals living with autism. This can make the prospect of attending heavily-peopled places and events much more intimidating. You, however, can help out your autistic family member in a variety of practical ways here.
- Actively encourage your sibling to learn how to use public transport. Be there with them as they learn to ask the drivers for tickets and change. This will go a long way in teaching them how to broach strangers for help.
- When travelling to and from outings, you can encourage a sense of location by marking out landmarks and buildings for your sibling. Encourage them to take note of where they are and what places are nearby.
- Public transport providers in Ireland have expressed disability access policies, including Bus Éireann and Irish Rail. Contact your local station to arrange suitable conditions for an easier journey.
- Teach your sibling to indentify and approach Gardaí, security guards and staff for help. They must learn to identify and speak to these individuals if they’re lost. Be sure they carry and share their Indentification Card when they need help.
PLAN FOR PLACES AND DAYS
Inclusion is the watchword of any family that wants their autistic members to feel they can take part in activities and events that anyone else can. Of course, planning for when and where you wish to go is a sensible course of action to take, especially if it’s to somewhere popular and particularly stimulating for the senses.
- Ask your brother or sister where they want to go if you’re unsure of what to do yourself. Going somewhere for the sake of going out is unlikely to make anyone happy and it’s important that everyone involved gets something positive out of it.
- Research possible destinations. Safety takes priority in any event. Go only where you know the layout of and which isn’t without supportive staff. Many local places, such as cinemas, community parks, museums and zoos make conscious efforts to make their facilities accessible and will often organise autism-friendly events.
- It is recommended that you only make longer journeys if you’re certain that your brother or sister will have something to occupy themselves, that their mood is stable and that you have necessary supports in place with you, namely a friend or another family member to help coordinate things.
- Attend a day trip with a local ASD support group. It can be a daunting experiences for you and your sibling if it’s your first time out together. Going out with people managing similar situations to yourself is an excellent learning experience as well as great way to network and to make friends and helpful contacts for future support.