By: Zipporah Levi-Shackleford, M.Ed., PBSF Creative Approach Development Center, LLC
I cannot believe the school year is almost over. In just a couple more weeks the kids will be on summer break. While this traditionally means more time to relax, enjoy each other’s company and make some new memories, it also means increased anxiety and confusion for children with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism. This is understandable since they did spend the last 9 months on a specific schedule that allowed them to know what to expect for the day. When school ends, many students with Autism have a hard time knowing what to do and what to expect which leads to anxiety and an increase in challenging behaviors. Luckily there are a few things you can do to not only help your child cope during this “time-out” phase but, also help them learn some new skills for the next school year.
Come up with a list of things to learn about and discover for the summer. When I say this I don’t mean pulling out the textbooks and worksheets but, rather working together to find some answers to top questions. Looking it up on Google or YouTube is a nice laid back way of finding your answers. I also like checking out my local library for some videos and books on the topics. Last summer my 10-year-old put on his list, “How is soap made” so we took some time one day to find out. We also learned about the world’s longest rollercoaster, the Gold Rush, and how to make homemade Play-Doh. The added bonus was also finding videos and directions that showed us how to make our own homemade versions.
Make a summer schedule. Routine is very important for our children on the Autism Spectrum and for those that struggle with organization. A simple solution is to make schedules for the day. Sit down with your children and decide which activities you will participate in during the day. Then put them in an order. Remember to explain the schedule is tentative for outdoor activities such as going swimming or bike riding because summer storms can happen at any time. To help with disappointments try having a couple of back-up plans to quickly take the place of the outdoor activity such as watching a movie, doing a puzzle together or playing a game. Letting your child write or decorate the schedule helps them feel more in control of the situation and makes the transition process a little easier.
Work on a new skill. Learning new skills takes time which is why summer is my favorite time to teach them. Think about the upcoming school year and try to identify new activities that may be challenging for your child. You can also think about skills you
may want them to learn to make them more independent during the school year. Summer is the perfect time for them to learn how to make their own breakfast and lunch or how to get clothes ready for the day. Improving reading and math skills and learning important information like addresses and emergency phone numbers are also projects you can add to your list.
Make new friends. Find a summer camp for your child based on their interests. Being in camp in a great way to keep a schedule and also work on some social skills in a more relaxed atmosphere. During school, the majority of the day is dedicated to instruction which limits the amount of peer interactions. During summer camps however, there is plenty of time to talk to each other and make new friends. Camp activities also help with skills such as sharing, taking turns and making choices which are tough for some of our kids.
Learn about themselves. Take time out this summer to help your child identify their strengths and special talents. This helps build self-esteem and will make the next school year go a lot smoother. I like to take time out over the summer to help my students work on this project and we then make “All About Me” cards that explain their best characteristics and then has a list of things they need in the classroom to help them perform at their top level. Our lists are usually about a 1⁄4 page and laminated. The students give them out to their teachers on the first day of school to help everything start off smooth.
These 5 ideas have made summers in our home with 4 children, 3 with special needs, a lot calmer and fun. The best part is all of these ideas can be altered to a style that works best for your family and are easily added to your other summer traditions. Enjoy!
Creative Approach Development Center has many camp and other options. You can access all the info here.