Summer, Summer, Summer- TIME

Related Post: Structure in the Home Setting

For pretty much any parent the summer break from school will require some decision making and planning to keep the kids busy and engaged over the summer months. While this is a universal parenting concern, for parents with special needs children the loss of a daily routine/structure when school is out for the summer can bring anxiety, fear, and frustration, for both the parents and the children. 
A characteristic of ASD is difficulty with changes to routine, or a need for sameness to make sense of the environment. So if the child is used to getting up at 7am to get ready for a 6 hour school day with Ms. Bailey, and now suddenly they are just at home all day, this is a situation ripe for challenges.

It doesn't HAVE to lead to challenges though, as long as some strategies are put in place after careful planning and preparation.

With my clients, around this time of year I see tons of problem behaviors re-emerge, new challenging behaviors pop up, families stress levels increase, and due to everyone vacationing or needing to shift schedules around, often the one area of sameness over the summer break (the therapy schedule) can fluctuate quite a bit.

It would be great if both the parent and the therapy team could keep the same schedule (or possibly even increase hours) over the summer months, but this does not always work out. 

So with the consistency of both home and therapy being subject to change, how can a parent help their ASD child maintain routine over the summer? Glad you asked:

  1. Planning begins wayyyy before summer starts- With most of my clients I like to start talking about summer planning around the top of the year. What is the family's plan for the summer break? Will therapy hours continue, reduce, or increase? What activities will the child participate in? Just asking these questions gets everyone thinking about how best to prepare the child for the upcoming break, and allows enough time to prepare the child using repetition. Depending on the ability level of the child, this preparation may need to include skill acquisition, a revised daily schedule, visual supports, and/or conversation about the fact that school will be on pause for a few months.
  2. Work with the treatment team to decide what to focus on- The treatment team could be the child's teacher, the IEP team, the ABA team, etc. Whoever is working with the family to help the child learn and gain skills, should be considered a member of the treatment team. These professionals can give valuable information about what to focus on over the summer. Should reducing problem behaviors be the #1 goal? What about academics? Or self-help skills? For lots of my younger clients, we target toileting heavily during summer break because of the increase in time to practice but also it's hot so wearing less clothes means it's easier to spot accidents.  
  3. Minimize "time off"- I know, I'm Debbie Downer. But ask any teacher about what happens to children's math and reading skills over the summer break. For most students, the beginning of a school year has to include "catch up" time to focus on what was lost over the summer. For special needs children who may have extra difficulty either gaining new skills or retaining known skills, this is an even bigger problem. That means that the intentional planning must keep in mind the big picture (long-term success and progress). Therapists know that a huge decrease in consistency will effect progress, so while it's fine to start the day later or end the day earlier --it IS summer after all-- I definitely don't recommend taking off for vacation for a month, stopping therapy entirely, or allowing the child to engage in solitary play or with electronics all day long. 
  4. Consider amping up the structure in the home-  I think it's safe to say that the child didn't spend their school day playing on an iPad, watching YouTube, and eating Popsicles. There was probably structure in place, where low-preferred and high-preferred activities alternated, and academic demands occurred daily. To switch from such a structured setting to a non-structured setting, can be very upsetting and jarring. Instead of thinking about summer break as a time to just "hang out", think about ways to incorporate structure into the home setting. Nope, I am not saying that every parent needs to make a mini-classroom in their living room. Your child may not need quite that much structure. But, it is very likely they do need more structure in the home setting, more transitions, more instructional time, and more time interacting with people instead of with objects.

Lastly, a super-colossal-important tip is to be very intentional about selecting summer activities. Most of the clients I work with are in a ton of summer activities, from Lego camps to gymnastics to karate, and on and on. Unfortunately, just because my clients attend these activities does not mean that they participate. And of course if the child is just placed in the room like furniture but not actually participating, then the activity is not likely to beneficial.

What I often see is that these settings are simply not equipped to help my client benefit from being there. When I say "benefit from being there", I mean: my client doesn't wander around the periphery of the group, they don't stare up at the sky while everyone else is playing basketball, and they don't spend all of craft time crying under the table.

Focus on placing your ASD child in summer activities where staff are either knowledgeable about ASD & behavior, or they are open to a trained facilitator attending with your child. Emphasize that you expect your child to be a part of the group, not just in physical proximity to the group. Explain how your child interacts socially, their communication style, and what their biggest motivators are, as well as the specific skills you want your child to gain from the group. For example: "We enrolled him in this basketball camp not just for gross motor and physical activity, but also because he struggles to interact with other kids his own age and we really want him to work on that. Please help him to take turns with the other kids and respond when the children talk to him".


Strategies for a Successful Summer Break

Preparing a Child With Autism for Summer Vacation

(Video) Making the Most of Summertime for Kids With Special Needs

No comments

Copyright T. Meadows 2011. All original content on this blog is protected by copyright. Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top