Summertime is here! Which means that the school year is wrapping up (or has wrapped up, depending on when you are reading this) and summer is starting to heat up.
Speaking of summer, as of right now, your autistic child is spending the summer at home.
At this moment in time you may be thinking of any or all of these questions:
What’s next for my child?
What are we going to do this summer?
How can we make sure to balance fun and having an easygoing summer?
We want to travel, how are we going to accomplish this?
A special note for those reading this post in the middle of August. Any of these strategies are applicable at any time of the summer.
I also want to take note of some common problems that arise once the summer is in full motion.
We’ll start off strong with the excitement that the school year is finally over.
We celebrate with sleeping in, enjoying video games, videos on Youtube...and then the meltdowns begin making an appearance.
I know this all too well myself!
Each summer when my brothers were out of school, we had this great moment of enjoying the summer.
They quickly made these times their routine, and if we didn’t make any adjustments early enough, any changes became harder to accomplish and resulted in lots of meltdowns.
You want to encourage your child to enjoy their summer but do know that they need some structure, consistency, and a meaningful routine at home.
You may also want to go on one or many vacations, trips, or even visits out in the community. And these can sometimes pose a challenge for your child on the spectrum and your family.
In this post, I’ll share 5 steps to help you plan for the summer and make it a fun and great one for your child on the autism spectrum and your family.
Grab a calendar and outline your plans for the summer.
You can also include opportunities for routine (e.g., go to the library, pool, see family).
You’ll also want to list the times and days you want to go on vacation, building in for travel time.
As well as include events that are happening around town. Maybe fireworks on the fourth of July (if you live in the United States)?
Keep this in a central location in your home. This would ideally be high visibility and traffic area in your home or in a spot that your child can frequently check in on.
Go over it with your child, and let them know that it’s there.
Maybe create a routine of checking in on the calendar in the morning so they can see what events are coming up.
This is also great for the end of the summer, so they can see when the first day of school is approaching - this will help ease their anxiety when it comes to thinking about school.
This was something we realized with one of my students, when he saw that school was fast approaching, we even got together to create a summer bucket list of things he wanted to do before the end of the summer.
And that also helped him transition back to school!
This is such a great idea for those of you who have a child who may get anxious (like one of my brothers) when they see school come back into their day to day picture.
[summer 2019 calendar]
Pro tip: Have a family meeting and talk about what everyone wants to do this summer. Involving your child in summer planning gives them a seat at the table (maybe literally) when it comes to making summer plans and you may get some great and surprising answers! Also, increasing their ownership of ideas and plans for the summer increases motivation for some of the not-so-fun events. And helps ease the summer blues for when school returns.
You know what amount of time is perfect for priming your autistic child for an upcoming event. Determine what strategies you’ll need to do so. Do you need to show a video of the event or location? Like showing them what a plane ride looks like?
Preview the schedule that you’ll have with them.
Create a visual support to show a countdown to when they go to camp. (And one for when they come back home from camp.)
[create a camp countdown visual - TpT baby!]
There will almost always be moments of unstructured time and waiting - especially when you are traveling.
Individuals on the autism spectrum may have difficulty with unstructured time, waiting, and even leisure time.
And just like a lot of us, boredom isn’t a particularly fun feeling to have. And when they are feeling bored, they may not be sure of what to do to communicate their boredom and what they would like to do to change it.
So you can create a list of things that they like to do. Maybe you can create a list of things together with them.
We like to build in choices in our visual schedule with my brothers. Even with snacks. Tyler has different types of options throughout his day. To vary up foods he likes to eat (chips, tortilla chips, cheetos - you get the picture here) with healthier alternatives (apples, bananas, grapes).
A Visual Schedule is a form of visual supports (see the link below) which are an evidence-based practice that has been proven effective for individuals on the autism spectrum.
Related Reading: Visual Supports
They help learners (side note: I like how they use the word learner - it’s so lifespan broad) to process information easier and more quickly.
Due to the characteristics of ASD - challenges in social interactions, communication, and having restricted interests and repetitive behaviors - learners often struggle when an adult provides verbal instructions of what to do or what will happen next.
However, individuals on the spectrum, have strengths in visual detail processing and visual search skills, when compared to typically developing peers.
By visually presenting information, the learner with ASD might be able to process the information more easily and quickly.
Overall, a visual schedule can help your child increase their understanding of expectations, and it provides support for between activity transitions.
There are different types of visual schedules that you can use, depending on the needs of your child.
For example, you can show a checklist of information: they may like seeing a whole day schedule, half day schedule, or first/then schedule.
And present the schedule through icons, pictures, photos, or written words.
You can even create it with your child.