Many parents both love and hate the thought of summer vacation. On the one hand, you’re ready to be done with the homework, backpacks full of papers, seemingly endless fundraisers, and getting the kids up and out the door to catch the bus every morning. Summer holds the possibility of a slower pace, fun times together as a family, and the kids being able to wrestle each other outside instead of in the family room! But then there’s the other side of the summer vacation coin: refereeing the kids’ fights (also know as “too much togetherness syndrome”), blocking out the whines of “but there’s nothing to dooooo,” shuttling kids around from one activity to the next, and discovering that there is only so much time you can be around your children before you start to lose your mind. It seems every season has its pluses and minuses!
A little summer pre-planning can go a long way in maximizing summer benefits for any family—especially families living with autism or other special needs. Here are 5 helpful tips for thinking about and planning your summer months.
- Plan ahead! Look into options in your area such as camps, community events, local attractions, parks, and other options that may be available. There are many things that are free or low cost if you take the time to look for them. Just exploring the variety of parks and playgrounds in your area can make for great inexpensive fun. Most, larger communities have recreation departments that offer summer activities ranging from sports to art to science.
- Ensure adequate support for your child. Make sure whatever activities you choose for your child include adequate support for him/her to have a successful experience. There can be a tendency to think that because summer activities don’t involve “academics,” children with special needs won’t need as much support. The reality is that these kids need support to navigate the social complexities and expectations of seasonal environments such as camp, vacation Bible school, local recreation events, etc. Supports vary according to the needs of each child, but it is best to determine potential needs and accommodations ahead of time to ensure a positive and productive experience for your child, and less worry for you.
- Figure out a schedule that is workable for everyone involved. Sometimes in the quest to make sure everyone has things to do, we end up turning ourselves into crazed taxi drivers all summer long. Determine how much time you want to be at home versus other places; and don’t go crazy planning something every minute. As much as kids may think they need to be doing something 24-7, there is great benefit to them having some downtime as well. Don’t plan so much in your summer schedule that there isn’t free time and relaxation.
- ALL kids need a break from the hectic schedule of the school year! Some parents of children with autism or other disabilities feel that they need to make every moment therapeutic, or have their child involved in some kind of activity or program each day. I have met many families over the years who become stressed at the thought of their child not being in school for the summer. Some of the BEST learning for kids takes place outside the walls of the classroom. You may have been conditioned to believe that what your child needs only happens in a school building, or that you can’t possibly provide the same benefits outside a school setting. Nothing could be further from the truth! Allow your child with autism to experience the summer just like other kids—and watch them blossom in the process.
- Make time for yourself. All parents need breaks and time to themselves throughout the summer. The previous tips will help accomplish reduced stress for parents by planning ahead for structured activities outside the home, and developing a workable time schedule for those things to happen. Parents also need to allow some time to do things you want/need to do, instead of feeling like you have to entertain your kids all day. Determining a workable schedule that includes time at home together and time doing other activities will help everyone stay sane—most importantly you!
Summer can be a great time for kids, parents, and families as a whole. A little time spent in planning can make the difference between a successful, rejuvenating summer, and one that leaves you burnt out and longing for September.