Summer is a time for fun in the sun, a relaxed schedule, and fun. But for autistic kids, the transition to summer can be challenging. Your child with ASD relies heavily on a predictable schedule to make sense of the world around them and reduce their anxiety.
Like you, many parents of children with autism still want to incorporate some fun activities into the summer months. It can be overwhelming to think about planning a vacation or even just new activities. The good news is that with some planning and preparation, you can have a fun, enjoyable summer with your child with ASD and the rest of your family.
We’ve put together some summer tips for parents of children with autism to help make your summer one to remember.
1. Keep a Regular Schedule
While particular times may change, one of the most important summer tips for parents of children with autism is to make sure you create and maintain a regular schedule. Because your child with ASD is used to having a highly-structured daily schedule when they are in school, transitioning to a loose schedule is sure to trigger their anxiety.
Here are some areas to focus on when creating your summer schedule. To cause less anxiety and have a smoother transition to the new schedule, do your best to stick to the same times of the following:
- wake-up time and bedtime
- tech time
- TV time
- activity time (library, outing, etc.)
When your child can rely on a predictable schedule, they will be more likely to easily transition to a new schedule, as long as you discuss the schedule change ahead of time. That brings us to our next summer tip.
2. Talk About Summer Activities Before Summer
One of the most crucial steps in getting ready for your new summer schedule is talking about it with your child with ASD. As discussed early, autistic kids often have difficulty adapting to schedule changes. But that doesn’t mean they can’t.
Start talking about the new summer schedule at least one month in advance. Discuss what your new schedule will look like while letting them know things will still be structured as much as possible.
You can even go so far as to practice the new summer schedule a couple of weekends leading up to summer break, depending on how well you think your child can adapt back and forth.
3. Plan activities with Your Child with ASD
Include your child with ASD in activity planning. You can give them options or ask where they’ve always wanted to go or what they want to see. Or, if they have a particular interest in something, find a museum or activity that focuses on that interest.
Allowing your child to have a say in some of the summer activities gives them a sense of ownership, and they’ll be more likely to go along with the new schedule and enjoy it.
4. Use Social Stories
Social stories are excellent tools for helping your child with ASD understand what will happen when you take part in a summer activity. Use pictures and words (if they can read) to show the timeline of events. Or just lay out the images in a grid to let them see there will be the given options for activities where you’re going. For example, if you’re going to a playground, you can put different playground equipment pieces on separate cards on your social story.
5. Allow for Extra Time
We all know things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes scheduled activities don’t start on time, end early, or run late. Including specific times when planning your summer activities depends on how well your child can handle a slight change in the schedule.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to pad the times when activities will start and end, so you don’t have to worry about it.
6. Set Expectations (And Stick to Them!)
Parents, especially children with autism, most likely already understand the importance of setting expectations for behavior. When discussing your summer ideas with your child with ASD and your neurotypical children, you have to lay the ground rules before taking part in any fun activities.
Perhaps the most pertinent part of this summer tip is that you stick to reinforcing these expectations. It can be challenging to stick to the rules in a public setting, but you don’t want to reward your child for dangerous and unwanted behavior.
On the flip side, you also want to positively reinforce your children when they are doing a great job.
7. Rely on Your Support System
Parenting isn’t easy. And if you’re the parent of a child with ASD, you have another set of challenges. One of the most essential summer tips, and life tips, really, is to rely on your support system. If you are participating in a fun summer activity with friends, invite them to be a part of your support team that day. Explain to them your concerns about your outing and give them some practical tools and tips for helping you.
8. Have a Backup Plan
When dealing with kids on vacation, especially autistic kids who have trouble with a change in plans, it’s crucial to have a backup plan. Weather, illness, and unexpected events can often change fun summer plans.
So when you make your summer schedule, you must have options “A” and “B” for each day and discuss those options with your child with ASD.
9. Begin an Annual Tradition
This is one of the most fun summer tips on our list. Brainstorm with your family and include your child with autism in the conversation. Talk about how you can celebrate the end of the school year and kick off summer with a fun activity.
Perhaps you can get ice cream or have a backyard picnic and a wiffleball game. Whatever it is, make it fun and an annual tradition you and your family can look forward to.
10. Have FUN!
One of the most important summer tips for parents of children with autism is to HAVE FUN! Having an enjoyable summer break may mean some extra planning and scheduling if you have a child with ASD, but it’ll be worth it!
Even if you stay home most days and have ice pops every day at 2:00, make sure you’re having FUN with your child!
Do You Need Additional Help for Your Child with ASD?
We understand the challenges that come with parenting a child with autism. But we also know how wonderfully unique and special each child is. At The Autism Therapy Group, we provide top-notch ABA therapy for children with autism and support for your entire family.
We focus on empowering your child and family with the tools and strategies to live a happy and fulfilling life using proven-effective in-home and clinic-based ABA therapy. If you have concerns about transitioning to summer or need help in particular areas of concern with your child, contact us. We’d love to help you make this summer the best one yet!