Published on 12, July, 2020
Hello- First I am trying to learn more so that I can me an ally to my niece with autism. We have a good relationship but I know I need to learn more to make sure she feels included when playing with my girls.
My question is regarding family vacations and what is expected of extended family. Recently we went on a family vacation with my sister, her husband, niece, nephew, my family, and my brother and his family. Everyone was getting along great the first day then, my sister started putting rules on what everyone could do to make sure my niece would always be included. The kids could not play football because my niece did not understand the rules, she was upset when we did not send our kids to bed early because her daughter needed so many hours of sleep, she wanted the kids to follow her daughters diet because her daughter does not respond well when she has sugar. If my niece wanted to do something (even though none of the other kids, including her son, wanted to do it) she guilted everyone into doing that. So my question is, am I not being fair because I grew frustrated and my kids are starting to resent their cousin or do I need to do a better job at being more inclusive when on vacation?
Also, I did talk to my sister about how we are all on vacation and while I agree we need to do things that my niece can do and eat, my children are also on vacation and should be able to do what they want as well. Her response was that it is not fair to her daughter that my kids got to stay up a bit later, have desserts with sugar, and when my niece is with her family, she should always be included and made comfortable.
Autistic kids crave routine and predictability - and taking them on vacation to a strange place doing strange things with a different group of people is asking for meltdowns and stress. She's overcompensating…
It's unfair to prevent your children enjoying their holiday for fear of upsetting a different child with different expectations and needs.
Switch the focus from shared activities and even meals, and…
Autistic kids crave routine and predictability - and taking them on vacation to a strange place doing strange things with a different group of people is asking for meltdowns and stress. She's overcompensating for putting her daughter into a risky environment. There's a fine line between stretching the girls ability to accept change and throwing her in the deep end where there are no constants.
I would not have arranged a vacation together unless the child had been given lots of pre-training of little steps - like more people in the room, all the extra noise, playing with the cousins for extended periods, sleeping in different beds, different food/travel routines etc. so when put together, it's a manageable step. All in one go just means everyone is on eggshells. It seems a bit disrespectful of the mother to just dump the daughter into the environment and expect everyone to instantly adapt - she seems to expect her grown-up needs to trump an autistic child's needs. And that's not fair - and will not help the child's ability to cope in future - it will just mean tons more stress built around social settings and interactions.
Switch the focus from shared activities and even meals, and towards "What do you want to do?" If the kids want to play football then find something the niece will enjoy that the others might not and entertain her with that instead. Send your children to play or read quietly in their room at her bedtime, instead of making them go to bed.
Being fair to her daughter doesn't mean being unfair to everybody else. If your sister disagrees then just spend a day enjoying yourself by suggesting the kids play rugby, offering them sweeties, starting a film 20 minutes before bedtime that your children must obviously stay up to watch to the end...
Is she sure that the kid even wants to spend all day with her cousins? The majority of autistic kids are natural lurkers in corners. Some time with other people is fun, if it's going well, but then we need a bit of peace and quiet to digest what's just happened. Maybe she should be with your kids in the mornings and then her mum can take her off by herself in the afternoons, or vice versa. Then your kids can do things her way some of the time and their own way some of the time, which seems more fair from their point of view. Just a suggestion, not knowing any of you or what kind of place you're staying in I couldn't swear that that would work, but it's worth a look.