By now, school (virtual, in-person, or hybrid) has finally let out and June 20th marked the official first day of summer. During a typical year, summer can be slightly stressful to manage with the transitions from school, planning vacations, or finding ways to occupy children.
Now, in 2021, that stress is exacerbated by a number of additional constraints. People are wondering what to do with their time while the world remains in this awkward transition phase. There are areas loosening pandemic restrictions while others are maintaining them; some people have received the COVID-19 vaccine and others have not; some are freely traveling while others remain cautious, choosing to stay home.
Added to these stressors are the struggles families of austistic or neurodiverse children are facing. Many are not sure what to do or how best to occupy their childrens’ time this summer. Anxiety about the upcoming school year (is their child ready? Will they be able to handle the transition from remote or hybrid learning to potentially fully in-person schooling?) further compounds this year’s summer stress.
This blog post will provide key ways families and friends can help engage autistic children during these transitional summer months.
What can you do?
1. Build a schedule.
One of the most significant changes that occurs in the summer is a loss or change in structure and routine. Children are used to going to school on a typical schedule, Monday through Friday, attending the same classes, and seeing the same friends.
It may be beneficial to establish a consistent routine or schedule in order to add structure to their summer. Schedules can be provided in various forms based on what works best for your child. Some examples include written calendars, visual schedules, or even notifications via an online calendar (if your child likes technology). It is helpful to develop this schedule early, and walk your child through it at the start of each day. A schedule allows your child the ability to predict and know what to expect from that day’s events.
2. Continue skill development.
As part of your schedule-building process, add time slots for your child to continue working on the skills they learned during the school year, or those they may be developing through therapy.
This can help your child apply the skills they are learning to other environments and helps you engage in your child’s therapy and continued growth. Many other professionals would also suggest turning these teaching moments into games; find ways to make the learning fun and exciting for the child. This is a great way to make the continued development of skills a fun summertime activity.
3. Summer camp/extended therapy hours.
For parents who work during the summer months, there are a few ways to help establish a consistent schedule with your child. Many parents look to extended school hours or summer camps as a successful way to provide stability and routine to their child. If you receive ABA therapy or know a local therapy company, they may also offer summer camp options. In addition, these same companies may be willing to provide extended therapy hours during the day if needed. One thing to keep in mind though is a healthy balance of therapy and time at home; therapy can be very exhausting for most children.
4. Prepare for vacations.
Vacations can be difficult to navigate.They can feel sporadic within a schedule and elicit a change (albeit, a short one) in routine. Planning ahead of time is one of the best things to do if you plan on taking a vacation. Preparation can come in the form of seeking assistance from your ABA provider, planning the destination and activities as far in advance as possible, and thinking about how your child will adapt to the new environment (i.e., noise, smell, taste sensitivities).
Just like talking about your child’s daily schedule sets expectations and provides the comfort of knowing what to expect, talking about the vacation ahead of time can have the same effect. Doing so can help alleviate the stress your child may experience during the vacation since they’ll know at least some of what to expect. Finding creative ways to work aspects of your child’s existing summer routine into your vacation can reduce stress, too. For example: you can bring their favorite breakfast food, game, or adhere to the same nighttime routine that you use at home.
5. Plan time for yourself.
One of the most important things to take away from this blog is to find time for yourself. It can be a quick 15-30 minutes or even a full day to yourself; doing something just for you. Having time for yourself allows you to unwind and relax from stressors. If you anticipate your child experiencing difficulties while you are away, think of ways you can prepare ahead of time (i.e., make them aware of what is happening, how long you will be gone, and some fun suggestions as to what they can do during that time). This time for yourself should be something you enjoy. Something as simple as a yoga class, lunch with a friend, or shopping goes a long way.
There is no doubt that, no matter how much you plan, some days are still going to be stressful – however, the techniques above can help reduce the number of stressful days overall. If you need help learning how to tailor these techniques to your child or family, do not hesitate to reach out for help. If your child receives therapy, it is okay to ask your provider for advice or assistance. You will find that most ABA practitioners are more than willing to help you devise a successful summer plan.
You can also think about looking into Facebook groups or blogs that provide helpful tips specific to your child’s age or needs. We are lucky that, nowadays, there is truly a Facebook group for everyone. We’ve also included a few resources below to get you started with some summertime ideas. Whatever your plans are, we hope you make the most of it and have a wonderful time with your family!
- Activities During the Summer by verywellhealth.
- Tips for the Summer Adjustment by Autism Parenting Magazine.
About the author.
Justyn Harvey, M.Ed., BCBA
CentralReach, Senior Manager of Customer Success
Justyn found his way to the field of behavior analysis when he moved to Florida for a job as a Behavior Technician after graduating with his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the Ohio State University. He was very passionate about the work he was doing and went on to pursue his Master’s Degree and certification in behavior analysis.
After spending a few years working his way up from an RBT to a BCBA, he came across CentralReach where he realized that he could make a more national impact by assisting ABA companies with a software to automate some of the daily administrative tasks and allow for more time with the clients who need it.