Summer can be a stressful time for all parents. What exactly are you supposed to do with your children for three months? For parents of children with autism, this question can be even more stressful, and even more important. You may worry that the break from routine will be overly disruptive for your child, or that he’ll lose all of the social and educational advances he made during the school year. You may feel like she’s losing her support network of special education teachers, resource teachers, and peers.
Don’t worry. A little planning goes a long way. Schedule a few fun summer activities can help your child cope with the change in routine—and help you survive the summer months, too.
How to Make Summer Beneficial for Your Child
The last thing that the parent of a kid on the autism spectrum wants to see happen over the summer break is for their child to regress when they lose their normal routine. But this doesn’t have to happen—summer is also a perfect time for enrichment, when you can slow down your normal routine and enjoy nature, which children with autism are particularly drawn to. To make the most of summer, the best thing to do is to establish a ‘Summer Schedule’ and begin going over it with your child early. Here are a few tips for filling your summer with fun, beneficial activities:
Find Local Support
No one can do it alone. As the parent of a special needs child, it’s easy to feel isolated. But other parents in the community are in the same boat this summer, whether or not they have a child on the autism spectrum. Ask other parents what they’re doing this summer, make play dates, and check the bulletin board at the library or online calendars for free and inexpensive local events. Most small-to-midsize communities offer outdoor films, small festivals and fairs, and other activities that are ideal for kids with autism. Also, many businesses are now beginning to offer sensory-friendly events, such as films and special play times, for children with autism spectrum disorder. There are also a number of reputable day camps and sleepaway camps that help kids with autism develop new social skills over the summer.
Make the Summer Schedule Easy to Memorize—And Fun!
When you are getting ready to make your Summer Schedule, remember that children with autism benefit even more than other children from pneumonic devices like songs, games, and alliteration. We love this mom’s Summer Schedule with easy-to-remember themes for each day such as Make Something Monday and Social Skills Saturday. Dividing summer activities into themes like this will not only help you think of more ideas and ensure that you are getting enough variety into your child’s sensory and developmental diet, it will also make the schedule fun for your child. Above all, don’t change your child’s sleep schedule in the summer, if at all possible.
Head Outdoors for Heavy Work
As you’re planning your summertime activities, remember to include plenty of time outside playing, doing chores, and other heavy work that will boost your child’s sensory processing skills. Schedule a sensory workout at least once a week. Perhaps you could set up a construction site in the sandbox in your backyard or at the beach. Use outdoor chalk, throw water balloons, and have lots of messy fun. Summer is a great time for swimming, digging in the dirt, and climbing trees—as well as washing cars in the driveway and doing yard work. It’s good for them!
Summertime means new routines and less structure for your child with autism, which can feel overwhelming, but it can also be a time for growth and learning if you plan ahead and schedule your days. Summer gives you the opportunity to help your child develop in ways that simply aren’t possible in a traditional classroom—so get ready to get the most out of the summer break.
For more ideas about how to spend the summer, read about activities that stimulate your child’s sensory processing abilities, including Vestibular Activities, Deep Pressure Activities, and Oral Motor Activities.