Many kids love the break summer brings – a relaxed schedule, sleeping in, a variety of activities like the pool, summer camps, and vacation. But for a child with autism (and their parents) the lack of the regulated school schedule can cause major struggles over summer break.
Having a predictable schedule helps kids on the autism spectrum make sense of their world. Knowing what to expect from day to day and even hour to hour helps reduce anxiety. So as a parent, how do you facilitate a summer break that provides the structure your child with autism needs, while also incorporating fun summer activities we love?
5 Ways to Help Your Child With Autism Thrive Over Summer Break
Create a Summer Schedule
Use visuals to show what your child’s “typical” weekdays, weekends, vacations and holidays will be on a calendar. Another great tool is to make a “typical day” schedule to show when they should get up, get dressed and eat meals. Also include activities and outings for the day. So if you plan to go to the pool or library on certain days – put them in the schedule to show them what to expect. And for days at home, read on for how to have a schedule on those days too.
Review the schedule each day, or the night before, so they know what is coming up. Doing so will help to reduce the anxiety involved with the unknown. Here is one example (pictured above from the Reading Mama) available for download. And a quick Google or Pinterest search will offer a variety of options.
Create a Back Up Plan
Work on teaching your child about a back up plan or “Option A” and “Option B”. If your schedule is to go to the pool tomorrow but thunderstorms are in the forecast, talk with them about a back up plan. Reviewing with them what you will do if they can’t do what’s on the schedule will help reduce behaviors associated with a “change in plans”.
If you stay home with your child in the summer it’s easy to get too relaxed and let go of any set schedule. But the more you can stick to a routine for meals, bed time and wake up time, and limiting screen time (see the next tip for more on this), the more well-regulated your child will hopefully be.
Create a Summer Vacation Rules Chart
The never-ending requests for the iPad, video games and TV are exhausting. Manage these requests – to a degree – with a Summer Vacation Rules list. The chart spells out a list things they need to do BEFORE they get to use any technology. Some “rule” options include tasks like getting dressed, brushing teeth. Or include chores like making their bed, cleaning their room, and more advanced chores for older kids. You can also have a rule for playing – inside and outside for specific amounts of time. Additionally, include some academic work that is age appropriate – reading for 30 minutes, math work, or coloring for 20 minutes. Here’s one example from Thirty Handmade Days.
Also check out our post 5 Ways to Manage Screen Time for Children with Autism for more helpful ideas on other ways to help manage screen time.
Start An Annual Tradition
Celebrate the end of the school year and the start of summer. Plan an activity or treat that you can repeat every year. Make their favorite dinner (or go to their favorite restaurant if that is an option for your family), or go out for ice cream. Or plan a fun activity like a trip to the zoo, visiting their favorite playground or making a picnic lunch to have at a special park or beach. Do something that you can repeat each year on the last day of school/first day of summer break. This creates a positive rhythm to the start of summer.
We hope these ideas help you create some structure AND fun for you and your family this summer! What are some ways you survive the summer months with your child with autism? We’d love to hear them!
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