The previous article in this series set up some of the problems that people with autism might face in the summer time. But it wasn’t meant to imply that the summer can’t be enjoyable for autistic people. These issues exist, but there are ways to deal with them. It is impossible to promise that all these solutions will work for everybody who tries them, but they can be helpful for some.
When it comes to sensory issues and sun cream somebody with autism might think about dressing in a way that minimises the amount of sun cream they have to put on. For example, long sleeved but light tops, three quarter length shorts, and trainers instead of sandals or flip-flops. This doesn’t take away the unpleasantness of putting on sun cream, but it does make it less of an issue as it is going on less of the body. If the autistic person applies their own sun cream they might draw up a list of things they enjoy doing in the summer, perhaps swimming or walking or even just sitting outside to read. They could then decide if they feel they would rather not do those things, or put up with sun cream, and be able to do them. If it is a parent trying to persuade a child to put on sun cream then it is important to explain to them that they won’t be able to do certain things unless they do wear it, and to respect whatever decision the child makes. So the parent might say `if you don’t wear sun cream we can’t go to the park. The child might decide that they don’t want to put sun cream on any way and that they are willing to not go to the park because of this. So the parent, instead of reacting and trying to persuade the child, should simply accept their decision whenever possible. Of course there will be times when this isn’t possible, and in this case the following tips might help.
• Scent free sun cream – it is possible to buy scent-free sun cream. A quick on-line search will bring up several results, such as Green People, who offer scent free organic sun cream. It does tend to be a bit more expensive, but it might be worth it.
• Spray-on sun cream – sometimes spray-on sun cream can be easier for autistic people to deal with. It doesn’t have the same thick consistency as many regular sun creams. Even though it generally might still need rubbing in, the application can be easier.
• One application a day sun cream – Obviously this would be the ideal choice if somebody has to wear sun cream as it means instead of having to keep applying it they can simply put it on each morning, but it will need reapplying after going in the water. So while it might be good for everyday use, it might not be any different than regular sun cream when it comes to holiday use.
• Let the child rub cream in – the autistic person might find the feel of the sun cream difficult, but adding to this the feel of somebody`s hands rubbing on them might make it unbearable. If they rub it in themselves they can take their time, and do it as gently as they want – they don’t have that physical contact with another person which can be uncomfortable, or even painful.
• Create a routine around applying sun cream – this might be something simple like putting sun cream on at a certain time in the morning before the sun is at its strongest. An example might be: get up, have breakfast, put on sun cream, and get dressed for the day. It might be worth having some sort of visual aid for this – a chart with items on that can be ticked off, or just a list that the child can keep by their bed.
• Sun protection suits – these can cover most of the body, and do the same job as sun cream. They might not feel comfortable if somebody does have sensory issues, and they won`t cover all the body, but they are a decent alternative to all-over-body sun cream.
• Hats – it is worth having a hat, perhaps with flaps or a wide peak to provide cover for the neck, face, and ears. This could be used alongside a sun protection suit, and some sun cream. It takes a bit of the pressure off if somebody is only nipping out for five minutes, and doesn’t want to go through the stress of sun cream being applied to their face and neck.
• Going out/Playing out – if a child wants to play out, but not put on sun cream then the most sensible thing to do is to restrict the time they can go out to the early morning or the late evening. They might feel that this is unfair, but there is no point letting them go out at the hottest time of day with no sun cream on – nobody benefits from this. Obviously if somebody is a teenager or adult it is more difficult for them to restrict the times of day that they go out, but they should try their best to do so. If they accept that putting sun cream on is a reality of going out during the hottest parts of the day then they will either have to do this, or go out at a cooler time.
This article has focused primarily on sun cream because this is one of the biggest and most difficult issues to overcome. Many people will avoid the sun altogether simply to avoid having to put sun cream on. And its application can be a difficult, and even tortuous experience for many autistic people. While there are no easy answers, hopefully the tips contained within this article will help to alleviate some of this stress and difficulties.
Solutions to some of the other sensory issues raised in article one will be included in the third article of this series.