Summer vacation is just around the corner, and it means different things to different families. For families of children with special needs, moving from school to summer break is one large, long transition that doesn’t always go very easily. Most children do better with routine and structure, but children with autism spectrum disorders, anxiety and ADHD are especially dependent on the predictability that school provides. Remove that “safe zone” and they are more prone to tantrums, oppositional behavior and anxiety.
For parents that are home, it can be difficult to find and stick to routines during this more relaxing time of year. With later bedtimes, random napping, and spontaneous plans, sometimes just creating some structure each day can be challenging. To be sure, there are some unexpected benefits from unstructured time as well, but finding a balance is not always easy.
Below are some ways to help kids with special needs transition to a summer schedule:
Routine – In an effort to keep a child more comfortable, where possible try to maintain the school year’s daily schedule, including meal times and bedtime. The predictability of even certain components of each day will keep your child more relaxed.
Play – While home can become a safe place, especially for children with sensory processing disorders or social difficulties, it is important that they don’t spend hours inside in front of screens. Physical activity is good for everyone, particularly for children with lots of energy to burn! Find an activity that your child enjoys such as swimming, playing tag or riding a bicycle. Exercise, including jumping and swinging boosts endorphin levels and summer vacation is a good excuse to be outdoors playing. Swings are a great form of exercise for children with special needs. Look at a hammock swing, standard belt swing or a special needs swing. Supervised time on a trampoline is also a good activity.
Sensory Space – A sensory space can help with transitions, or to allow a child to relax at certain times of the day. If you need to, schedule sensory time each day (several times if necessary). This space can include controlled lighting and sound, with comfortable beanbag chairs or crash pads. Look to include items for compression, play, movement or heavy work. Weighted items such as balls can be incorporated here as well.
Lists/Schedules – Writing children’s daily tasks and activities on a posted list can help greatly, especially for children who have difficulty with transitions. Make sure they are included in making and monitoring the list. Tasks on the list can include chores, activities, summer reading work and anything else that will happen during the day (i.e. 8AM: wake up, use bathroom, brush teeth; 9AM: breakfast; 10AM: summer reading). A list will especially help children with Sensory Processing Disorder, ADD, ADHD, Executive Functioning Disorder and those on the autism spectrum.
Planned Activities – Plan ahead whenever possible, so your child can know ahead of time that you have plans for ‘Wednesday at 11:00 AM.’ Try to also have a set daily routine, such as going to the park every afternoon.
Travel and Routines – Vacations that involve staying in hotels can be additionally challenging. When possible, explore renting a vacation apartment where mimicking home routines is easier. Consider bringing familiar snacks and picking up milk, juice and snacks once you arrive. Having some familiar routine components, even while on vacation, may be helpful.
Summer Camp – For information on finding a camp that will accommodate your child’s special needs, see our previous blog post “Things to Consider When Choosing a Summer Camp for a Child with Special Needs.”
With some research and planning, you’ll be able to set up a summer plan that will work for your child, and his/her special needs and interests. Remember that it’s equally important for parents/caregivers to take some time for themselves. If possible, book a babysitter and spend some time with friends. If that isn’t feasible, close friends with or without kids can offer support. And if a family member is available to give you a break, do so. Your well-being is important and allows you to give your best to your child. Wishing you a happy summer!
Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.