Whatever age your child is, they can struggle with the disruption that summer brings. As the predictable routines of school come to an abrupt halt and our kids are thrown into a whole new state of affairs with totally different rules, expectations and activities, it is no wonder that they struggle in keeping it together.
Though teachers, therapists or other professionals involved in your child's care and education can go some way to easing the transition into the summer, as parents of those on the autism spectrum you are best placed to to be proactive in making sure their summer is a success.
Here are ten tips guaranteed to make the summer easier:
Talk to this year's teacher
Your child's teacher is likely to have spent plenty of time and effort in implementing techniques to help your child learn in a way that suits them. Through work systems, pictorial communication strategies, visual timetables or other methods, your child will have learned the expectations of them that exist in the classroom, both educationally and behaviorally.
Moving from a structured environment into the free-for-all that summer can sometimes be is tough for a child on the autism spectrum. Liaising with your kid's teacher to learn about any strategies and materials used will enable you to carry these techniques into the summer, which will ease the transition for your child.
Meet next year's teacher
Though the beginning of the summer brings the largest upheaval in schedule, the end of summer can be just as tough, for different reasons. If your child is uncertain what the fall will bring when they return to school, they can become anxious and fearful about the beginning of term.
Meeting next year's teacher and preferably visiting the classroom they will sit in the next academic year before school ends can do wonders for a child's feelings of security during the summer. It will be particularly comforting to many children on the autism spectrum to have an image of the teacher and classroom to keep those memories alive during the long break.
Help your kid maintain their friendships
For most kids on the autism spectrum, friendships are not easily won and just as tricky to maintain. Keeping your child in touch with their schoolmates over the summer might not be the easiest task, but it will ease the transition back into school in the fall, as well as keeping familiar faces around during the summer.
Seeing their friends out of the usual context of the classroom and playground can be jarring, though. Inviting friends round to your home can work well once your child knows what is expected of them and what activities they can do together. Setting up clear rules and guidelines will help your child deal more effectively with any anxiety they may be feeling and enjoy their friend's company.
4. Set out a plan for the summer
A visual overview of all the summer's activities, including vacations, day trips and other planned activities can be a great help for those on the autism spectrum. Listed chronologically, preferably on a calendar, a run-down of the summer and an idea of when they will return to school will decrease anxiety and help them get a better sense of time.
Photos of your vacation destinations are ideal as they help to ease the transition into unfamiliar environments.
5. Rearrange the wardrobe
We all know that many on the autism spectrum can attach to specific items of clothing and refuse to consider alternatives. Removing tempting favorite jumpers and woolen clothing from wardrobes and drawers and moving them into storage can prevent overheating and the health problems it causes.
6. Consider sensory sensitivities
Summer is a time that comes with a whole load of different sensory experiences. Putting on sunblock, jumping in the pool, wearing less clothes or the heat on the skin can be problematic for some on the autism spectrum.
A great time to apply sunblock without a fight can be during a favorite TV show that engrosses them. Children who find it uncomfortable wearing lighter clothes may enjoy a weighted vest. Some kids may prefer to sit in the shade or go inside for some periods of the day to avoid sensory overload.
Try to be mindful of how planned or impromptu activities can affect your child's senses. Refusal to engage in activities can sometimes be a means of protecting themselves from overstimulation.
7. Focus on bedtime routines
Lack of sleep can cause anyone to get grouchy. Try to maintain the same bedtime routines that were in effect during the school year, if you can. It might help to establish a set pattern of activities before bed e.g. bath, read, sleep, which can ease transitions into different bedtimes or unfamiliar places such as hotels.
Blacked-out curtains might be necessary in the summer months to ensure your child gets a good night's sleep, particularly if they are sensitive to light.
8. Map out the day
Particularly if your child's activities for the day are mapped out at school, consider doing the same at home. Even if your plans for the day are flexible, mapping out mealtimes between activities can be a great way to provide structure, much needed for those on the autism spectrum.
For extended periods at home, you might consider providing structured activities, workbooks or educational tasks to keep them occupied and up to speed with their academics.
9. Use social stories
Summer can be full of unfamiliar social activities. Pre-empting these by providing social stories can help your child achieve a greater degree of social success.
Home made books or comic strips that detail different social situations and the expected behaviors that apply can give your child that extra bit of understanding they need to navigate new scenarios.
10. Give your child a private space
Sometimes all the excitement and disruption in routine can just be too much. Wherever you might be, try to provide an area where your child can just chill out for a while. Whether they need to regather their composure or rebalance after overstimulation, having a private place for them to express and gather themselves can be invaluable.
Whatever the age of your child, remember that the disruption of summer can be a time of growth and development when we recognize our child’s differences and empower ourselves and our families by learning how we can embrace them