What? Summer break? That is still a long time away! When you have a child with autism, you know that summer breaks are difficult challenges. While some children are looking forward to staying up late, having the entire day in front of them with nothing to do and nowhere to be, those with autism do best when their day is structured and routine. They want to know what to expect and when to expect it.
As parents, planning for the transition from structured to unstructured days often starts well before the end of the school year. It isn’t too early to start preparing your child in April or early May. The following are some ways you can make the transition from school to break easier for your child...and you.
Keep a bedtime routine. In summer daylight lasts longer, making it hard for children to go to sleep at the same time as they did during the winter months. Try to keep your child’s bedtime as close to his regular bedtime as possible and stick with the nightly routine leading up to bedtime.
Plan a daily schedule. Your child might not be heading off to school each day, but you can still plan a basic schedule: wake up, breakfast, outdoor play, reading time, etc. Your child will be better able to cope with summer if the day is structured and he knows what to expect. Be sure to include down time and alternate activities if one task is too frustrating. Write out or use visuals so the entire family knows the schedule.
Talk about the summer break. Remind your child he isn’t going to school for several months during the summer. Talk about things he would like to do. Explain your expectations for the summer. Talk about unexpected or planned changes. Let your child know there might be times when the schedule changes, if it is a planned change, such as visiting a relative, let him know you will tell him in advance. Explain there might be times things come up that weren’t planned, for example, if you plan an outdoor activity but it rains that day, you will need to come up with an alternative plan.
Include planned activities. You can build a “field trip” into your child’s summer schedule each week. Incorporate your child’s interests and research interesting places to go throughout the summer. You might plan on a trip to the zoo one week and a visit to a museum another. Some outings can be going to the library, local pool or weekly swim lessons. Try to make these outings on the same day each week.
Countdown the days. In May you can start counting down the days until the last day of school. Then you can start counting down days until camp or vacation begins. Use a large calendar so your child can cross off days and keep track of what is next.
Prepare your child in advance of camp or vacation. If your child is going to camp or your family is going on vacation, prepare your child ahead of time. Write a list of supplies your child needs, look at pictures of the camp or destination, talk about activities he will be doing. If possible, take a tour (or virtual tour) of the destination or camp. Keep your child involved in the planning as much as possible.
Work on skills. Your child needs to keep up the skills he gained during the school year. Talk with your child’s teachers before the end of the school year to help plan activities for the summer. If there are areas your child is struggling, ask for hand-outs and activities to help him sharpen or maintain his skills. Look for outings that will help reinforce skills.
Maintain social contact. If your child isn’t attending a camp or other structured activity, find ways to keep up social skills. Invite a few of the children from school to spend an afternoon at your house. Have a picnic with other families. Look for group activities and summer classes in your area.
Keep up therapy. If your child works with therapists, such as speech therapy, keep the appointments going through the summer months so you aren’t faced with regression issues at the end of the summer.
Despite the routines and schedules, make sure summer is an enjoyable time for you and your family. Be sure to include activities that you can do as a family and continue to build your relationship with your child. Often, parents and families with children with disability spend so much time managing the disability, they put off having fun together. Make sure some of the activities are meant to develop the family unit and parent-child relationship and build memories.
Published On: April 23, 2014