Planning for Summer with Kids with ASD

Well, fellow parents, summer will be here in a flash and with it, our children will be home…alternately looking to us to entertain them and running amuck, amuck, amuck!  The change in structure, and often lack of structure, for summertime can pose particular challenges for children with ASD, and thus for their families.

Summer programming for your kids with ASD is crucial so that they are able to maintain and even continue to build on the skills learned during the school year.

Components of a Good Summer Routine for Children with ASD (in general terms):

Obviously, when you are talking about children–and particularly children with ASD–there is no “E is for Everyone.”  However, based upon the standard profile of children with ASD, children tend to have difficulty with:

  • play abilities (which may be seen as poorly developed play skills on their own all the way to difficulty negotiating cooperative play with peers);
  • difficulty with emotional regulation (which may be related to sensory challenges as well as anxiety/OCD-like behaviors); and
  • language deficits (which may be expressive language, receptive language, pragmatic language/social communication, or all of the above).  Therefore, during the summer season when your child may be out of his/her standard school year programming, it is important to be sure you are tending to all of these needs.

In general for the families I serve, I make sure that summer programming for a child with ASD has the following components:

  1. Group Opportunities: Depending on the social communication level of your child, you will want your child to have the opportunity to interact with children at the same developmental level, children slightly above their developmental level, or typically developing peers, if not all of the above.  In order to make these group opportunities successful and positive ones, though, there are certain components to look for, which I’ll talk more about in my next blog post.
  2. Sensory Integration Therapy: when appropriate.  (Contact an occupational therapist for more information.)
  3. Language Intervention in an individual or small group setting:  You want to make sure that your child has the opportunity to maintain and continue to improve his/her language comprehension and expressive language abilities, and to use these skills socially with peers and adults.
  4. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): when necessary.  ABA therapy is not, contrary to popular belief, a “necessity” for every child with ASD.  As I said before, there IS no “E for Everyone.”  However, if your child is experiencing particular challenges for which ABA therapy has been recommended, be sure that you continue to attend to this need over the summer.  For more information, contact a qualified BCBA.  (For referrals in the Dallas area, feel free to contact me.)
  5. A structured home life: Though the nature of summer just makes us all want to “go with the flow,” this just isn’t possible for many children with ASD.  Use of a monthly or weekly calendar to signal which days you’ll be doing what activities, and a daily schedule to show the overall flow of when these activities will be happening can CHANGE YOUR LIFE.  I cannot state this enough.  For children with comprehension difficulties and/or anxiety, having a visual representation (either using words or picture symbols) is SO incredibly helpful to aid them in knowing what is happening now and what is coming next (and if something is over, allow it to be over).  Here’s my post on daily schedules again.  Additionally, you may find schedules for particular activities, such as going on a trip, going to the beach, or going to the pool, to be incredibly helpful.  For more information, see my previous blog post on visual schedules.

If you need help planning your child’s summer, now is the time to be talking to his/her teachers and therapists, the people who know your kids the best (next to you, of course).  Ask about summer opportunities in your area and which ones could be modified to meet your child’s needs.  For those of you being served by the public schools, inquire about the possibility of receiving extended year services.  It never hurts to ask!  Lastly, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here!  Feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to talk you through it.

In my next post, we’ll talk through things to look for in summer group programs for your child with ASD.  See you there!

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