by Twanesha Wilcox, PsyD
Summer is finally here, and many children are looking forward to a break from school for a few months. No strict schedules, no classes, and no homework! However, for young people on the autism spectrum, a change in daily routine can create new stressors for them and those that care for them. Here are some tips for parents to help their child transition into and out of summer more smoothly:
Planning ahead may help your child adjust to changes in schedule and routine. While you may never be able to duplicate the structure that school provides, it helps to maintain the school year’s daily schedule (including mealtimes and bedtime) as much as possible. When routine changes do need to occur, preview those changes with your child early on. It can also be helpful to allow extra time for your child to transition between activities on the daily schedule (e.g., instead of free choice time at 10am it could say, ‘after breakfast’).
Small Steady Steps
Start introducing small transitions to help ease any anxiety about a big change in routine. For example, parents can start a countdown to the end summer camp and discuss potential summer vacation activities. If you have registered your child for a new summer activity, it may be helpful to introduce your child to that activity beforehand. For example, if possible, visit the new location or discuss the new activity in detail and preview expectations with your child.
Summer Safety Tips
Individuals on the autism spectrum may feel safer knowing exactly what is expected of them and the reward that results from appropriate behavior. This may be more important during a seemingly boundary-free summer break. It can help your child to maintain or create clear schedules or add a behavioral system. You can choose two to three most desired positive behaviors to foster with consistent positive reinforcement. Remember, it is important that you be consistent with noticing the expected behaviors and offering the planned reward consistently.
If travel is in your plans this summer, it can be helpful to familiarize your child with the destination using photographs, videos, etc. ahead of time. If it is your child’s first time traveling or flying, social stories are a great way to preview the experience. Create a ‘survival kit’ including items your child enjoys, as well as headphones and a fidget toy to help adapt to loud or overwhelming environments. Try to stick to your at-home routine when possible (i.e., eating, bedtime, etc.).
Enjoy Your Summer
Without school and its associated structured activities, summer can feel like an extra burden for parents to try and keep their child occupied and happy. Remember that summer is for everyone and to be your child’s best advocate, caregiver, and parent, you need time to recharge. Try to include activities that are interesting and fun for you too. Spending time with friends, with or without kids, can also provide good company and support for parents.
Overall, remember there is no right or wrong way to plan your summer; each experience will create lasting memories and inform what accommodations may be helpful for your child going forward.