Transitions can be difficult. Summer vacation, what may be a treasured memory of a magical time for you can be a source of extreme anxiety for your child on the autism spectrum as his or her routine is turned on it's head.
Here are some tips for a pleasant and successful transition into what will hopefully be a relaxing and magical summer vacation:
- Plan ahead: Start talking about the transition before it is imminent. Co-create a schedule of summer activities with your child. Gather his or her input by asking positively biased questions. Limit the choices to acceptable options, but still present them as choices. Include your child's idiosyncratic interests into the summer. If he or she is really into baseball statistics, maybe a trip to a minor league game would be something to look forward to.
- Use Visual Supports: Consider using a visual calendar of each day, and the vacation as a whole. That way your child can see what is coming up each day, and throughout the vacation. If your child is anxious about a piece of the schedule, social stories can help to reduce anxiety about interactions. To create a social story, break a scenario down into simple steps. For example: "When I arrive at camp, I walk in with my father. I greet the counselor. I put my lunch in the bin and my swim suit in my cubby. I look at the schedule for the day. I say goodbye to my dad. I choose a quiet activity and wait for the counselor to begin camp." Each sentence should be written on a seperate index card, and can be accompanied by a drawing, or photograph cut out a magazine representing the action. You can review the scenario with your child before camp, or whenever they have a question about the routine.
- Ritual: Try to see summer vacation as an opportunity to create new rituals and break old patterns. Think ahead to the next transition back into the school year and don't shoot yourself in the foot. If you push bedtime back by several hours, and then have to push it forward again there can be a whole new set of issues in the Fall. However, summer can be a time to develop positive patterns like encouraging your child to make his or her own lunch when you have less time pressure.