Summer, with its longer days and more free time, is almost here. It can be fun, but it also can present some challenges for our loved ones with autism. Are you ready? We have some ways you can keep it fun and educational with less stress for everyone.
Maintain your child’s schedule: Visual schedules are a powerful tool for people with autism. Not only can they provide information about what to expect, schedules also provide security and lessen anxiety – all of which are extremely important and will make the difference between a day of fun and a day of stress for everyone. Schedules also can prevent your child from developing habits that may be hard to break, such as playing videogames all day. For more on visual schedules, see this previous blog post. Also, help your child prepare for change by using calendars to show when school will start again and when you are going on vacation, to visit family, or are having visitors.
Have fun at home: For those long days when you are at home, you may want to set up “centers” around your home to engage your child and give you much needed time to do other things. For example, set up a water play area outside with a sprinkler, table, cups, and pool toys. Inside, a sensory area could include a bean bag chair, an exercise ball, and a bin of sensory toys that you know your child will enjoy. Much of this can be found at the dollar store. Other stations might offer LEGOs, crafts, or puzzles. A schedule can provide the structure to the day for your child.
Routinely schedule play dates or outings with peers: Summer is a great time to work on social skills. Try to establish a regular schedule of meeting with your child’s peers. Your local Parks and Recreation Department may have specialized programming or camps, and many do a great job supporting individuals in inclusive settings as well. Even camps that aren’t identified as being for children or young adults with special needs may be a good fit if they are directed at kids with a defined interest such as LEGOs, iMovie, chess, computer coding, robotics, or geo tracking. Other places to check for camp options include speech or occupational therapy groups, the YMCA, the NC Zoo, churches, and Scouts. For help finding resources in your area, contact one of our Autism Resource Specialists.
Use free time to continue learning skills: Summer is full of motivating opportunities, and we often have more free time, so it is the perfect time to work on critical skills such as communication. For example, if your child loves to go the pool and playground, these may be two perfect starting points to work on a communication system. Once your child is consistently requesting outings using the system, you can add more. Remember, when teaching a new system, only put items on the board or device that are readily available, motivating, and can be immediately reinforced. Also, use fewer icons initially – two or three rather than 10 or more – to keep it simple. For more on working on communication at home, read this blog post.
Expose your child to a new activity: Think about what your child enjoys; is there a recreational activity that incorporates some of those interests? If so, exposure is key, providing multiple opportunities to try the activity. Perhaps you prime first, showing the activity using YouTube or other visual tools, and then schedule the activity in small doses at first, building up over time. For example, a child who is really interested in animals could be introduced to horseback riding. Start by just visiting the farm and looking at the horses. Move on to touching the horses, then leading the horses, sitting on the horse, and finally riding the horse.
Plan for travel: If you are taking a family vacation with a loved one with autism, planning is key. Think through your trip and prepare for situations that might present a challenge. If you are visiting relatives, communicate with them ahead of time and explain your child’s needs. Let them know if you will be bringing any special foods or equipment to help your child feel comfortable. Bring any tools or supplies necessary to assist or ensure smooth travels: schedules, communication systems, calming items, snacks, etc. (See our blog post on “autism survival kits.”) Have an emergency plan and always carry a picture of your child. Use written social scenarios to help your child visualize new social situations or activities and how to handle them. For more tips on traveling, read this blog post.
Prepare for the next school year: Before you know it, another school year will be here! Start preparing your child several weeks in advance to make the transition easier. For ideas, read this blog post.
Most importantly, keep stress to a minimum. Your loved one certainly deserves a break; just make sure the break is one that truly matches the nature of their personality, needs, and abilities. If you would like support during the summer months, please contact one of our Autism Resource Specialists. Enjoy your summer!
Tags: ASNC, autism, autism anxiety, autism communication, autism resources, autism sensory, autism social skills, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, autism support