The Impact of Seasonal Change on my Autistic Son

autism and nature

Change can be very difficult for many autistic children.  Unexpected or rapid change can be particularly overwhelming. My 6 year old struggles with change and one change impacting him that took me a while to realise was seasonal change.

Preparing for change

If I put in the effort to help prepare my son for changes or new experiences it makes so much difference. He is non verbal so visuals are really important. Books and social stories are another way to help prepare.

For big changes like starting school you may need lots of preparation but for others it may just be a visual on the day.

Autism & Nature

My kids are connected to nature and their environment in a way I am not. I am happy to be inside for most of the day, my kids need to be outside everyday. I guess my lack of connection to my environment is the reason it took me a while to recognise it in my kids.

My youngest has a real connection to trees, particular trees at that. This is a 3 year old who doesn’t greet people but will run to certain trees and hug them tight and get upset when it is time to leave them.

autism and nature

In many cases kids are better connected to the natural world than adults. My husband is a teacher and he knows he is in for a rough day with the kids when it is windy or a full moon.

I love the reply to my tweet below from Peter Smith highlighthing the autistic ‘special gift to see beyond the social & into the true nature of life…’

My 6 year old has always been drawn to water (which terrifies me as he is not great with danger awareness). He really struggles if he does not spend time outside and I have learnt to see that it is not just a want to be outside but an actual need.

Seasonal Change

When my eldest son was 2 & 3 we had a series of regressions and progress. Over time we noticed there was a pattern. The pattern was seasonal change, the regressions would start around the change from Summer to Autumn and then peak as Winter began. He would then start to make progress again as Spring started and be flying come Summer.

I think we had a bigger impact from seasonal change when he was very young as he did not have the awareness or understanding that it was going to happen. Now he is older this is better but he is still impacted by season changes. His mood is also often reflective of the weather.

I am not the only parent to notice regression and or progress in line with seasonal change. An autistic friend also pointed out they get tinnitus when the seasons change.

SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is depression in line with the pattern of seasonal change. It is often referred to as ‘Winter depression’ as this is when the majority of symptoms for most will be at their peak. For some the impact of SAD can be severe and have a significant impact on their daily life.

The cause of SAD is not clear but it has been linked to reduced exposure to sunlight in the Winter months. A lack of sunlight can impact:

  • Production of melatonin – the hormone that tells you when you need to sleep. The production of melatonin can be an issue for many autistic people.
  • Production of serotonin – the hormone that effects mood.
  • The body’s internal clock

It has also been suggested that SAD may run in families and your genes may be the reason some people are more vulnerable to SAD.

Preparing for Seasonal Change

It took me a long time to recognise that seasonal change was impacting my son. However now I am aware of it I can do more to prepare him as the changes come up. In addition to seasonal change I can support him to understand different types of weather.

Get outside whatever the weather and explore the weather. The Seekers Scavenger Hunt is great to help you with this.

Seekers Review
In the woods with Seekers

We use two visual calendars. They are brilliant for repetition to help learn days of the week, dates, months and seasons. It also includes the weather so we talk about it on a daily basis. We have the Peppa Pig My first Calendar:

Christmas gift for autistic child
Peppa Pig My First Calendar

We also have a Magnetic My First Calendar:

The other way we prepare is with books. We have a lovely set by Harriet Brundle for each of the seasons.

Sam Usher does some lovely kids books about Rain, Snow and Storm.

Other favourites in our house are Shark in the Park on a Windy day and The Gruffalo’s Child for some snow.

Are you impacted by seasonal change or the weather? How do you help your kids with the upcoming season changes? Let me know in the comments.

autism and nature
Spectrum Sunday
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  1. Siobhán O'Leary Donkin
    17th September 2019 / 7:16 am

    Another beautifully written blog. Seasonal change is something I hadn’t really thought about but I think you are right in its impact on my children.. I’m definitely going to invest in that calendar! I adore the idea that your youngest hugs trees 🙂

    • admin
      17th September 2019 / 7:38 am

      He is definitely a tree hugger!! I just wish I had realised about the impact of seasonal change when he was really small and it was such a big thing for him.

  2. 18th September 2019 / 1:43 pm

    It’s interesting, isn’t it? My two are definitely affected by the weather. My seven year old has a need to be in or near water on a regular basis and has to be outside regularly too. My four year old is happiest inside but feels the change in the weather more.

  3. 20th September 2019 / 10:41 am

    Such an important blog, thank you Jade… you are so right about our kids being connected with nature on a different level. I wonder if the sometimes difficult return to school in September is in part related to this too?

    • admin
      20th September 2019 / 10:50 am

      Your probably right there Mark. I often wonder if our kids would do better with a 4 day week that runs all year round

  4. huntersmum
    20th September 2019 / 2:48 pm

    That’s really interesting. I know quite a few parents who’s children are affected by the full moon but not thought of this aspect before.

    • admin
      20th September 2019 / 3:43 pm

      I think it’s one of those things that we don’t see until it’s pointed out.

  5. Sensational Learning with Penguin
    29th October 2019 / 9:33 pm

    This is a lovely post Jade, and I was so touched too about Peter Smith’s comment (as you already know ;-)) x

  6. 30th October 2019 / 12:05 pm

    So interesting identifying the time of year with regression, it’s not something I’d even thought about. Thanks for linking it to #spectrumsunday

  7. Matt.
    10th February 2024 / 8:14 am

    I’ve suffered with SAD for years. I have only recently found out that I am on the spectrum and googled the two together to find this! It’s been such a burden for years (I feel like a hedgehog in winter…) that I am actually moving to Spain to escape! Interesting to see it manifest at such a young age for you. Definitely an inbuilt response and not something learned!

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