The summer break provides great opportunities for families and children to experience new activities, explore new locations, relax and stay in, forget about homework, say no to early mornings, and take a break from the overall rigid structure an academic environment provides. However, completely removing those structures and routines may not be the best approach for all children with ASD. All individuals, regardless of disability status or age, must move (i.e., transition) between multiple tasks and activities throughout the day (Sterling-Turner & Jordan, 2007). In addition to difficulties in social relationships and communication, some individuals with autism may exhibit behavioral difficulties associated with changes in routines (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). For most families, summer schedules include changes in routines such as shorter days in summer school, new teachers, babysitters/therapy providers and overall longer unstructured times. Be prepared to tackle on this summer by utilizing some of these tips for having a successful summer the whole family can enjoy.
- Make and Keep a Schedule
It may feel overwhelming at first but scheduling weekly/monthly or even daily activities and tasks for your child will greatly help prime your child on the expectations for the day/week. Utilize print out calendars, maps, or picture icons to help them visually anticipate what is approaching, what is expected of them, and what reinforcers will be available and when. If your child is receiving a variety of services such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy; plan services accordingly and throughout the week so services are evenly distributed. Do you have a photo of each of your child’s therapists? If so add them to your child’s visual calendar on the days they will be seen. Maintaining a visual schedule will help minimize unstructured times and provide a variety of learning opportunities for your child that they can learn to anticipate.
- Keep What’s Working
Continue implementing and utilizing the techniques and interventions that have been successful in the past. If your child has been successful with utilizing picture icons, visual boards, timers, etc. continue implementing these techniques and interventions during the summer. Consistency is key! This applies to times of services as well. If your son or daughter is an early bird and never sleeps in, try scheduling applicable services/classes, programs and other activities earlier in the day for him or her to enjoy. Remember their success is your success!
- Do What They Love
Incorporate your child’s special interest or preferred activities into the planned schedule. If being in the water is highly preferred, try scheduling swim lessons, filling up a kiddy pool, water balloons or water hose play into the schedule. Sensory issues often accompany autism. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association added sensory sensitivities to the symptoms that help diagnose autism (Autism Speaks, 2019). By incorporating such activities that provide your child with additional sensory input, you are helping them meet their sensory needs.
- Try New Things
Although trying new things might bring new anxieties, it can also mean accomplishing bigger milestones. Whether it is eating at a new restaurant, visiting a new park, or simply going for a walk around the block, plan it out and be prepared for the unexpected. Make sure to take everything you need to make the experience successful and if for whatever reason it does not work out, have a plan B and remember there is always tomorrow! Consult with your clinical team on how to plan for these new experiences and schedule support during those experiences if needed.
- Keep Things Simple
Individuals with autism have a greater need for predictability in their environments than individuals not diagnosed with autism. Flannery and Horner (1994) suggested that individuals with developmental disabilities, including autism, may not be aware of naturally occurring cues signaling an upcoming environmental change (Sterling-Turner & Jordan, 2007). Keeping behavioral expectations simple and giving clear cues (whether visual, verbal or both) will greatly help your child adapt to any and all schedule changes and can help reduce transition difficulties. Remember to plan new activities that may pose as a challenge within a few days/weeks of each other to avoid overwhelming your child.
Thus, the overall goal for having a successful summer should include maintaining and generalizing skills, positively reinforcing new and appropriate behaviors, creating just the right amount of structure your child needs and making sure they are happy, loved and get the most from their summer break!
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., Text Revision). Washington, DC: Author.
Flannery, K.B., & Horner, R.H. (1994). The relationship between predictability and problem behavior for students with severe disabilities. Journal of Behavioral Education, 4, 157–176.
Speaks, A. (2019, May 22). Sensory Issues. Retrieved from Autism Speaks: https://www.autismspeaks.org/sensory-issues Sterling-Turner, H. E., & Jordan , S. S. (2007). Interventions Addressing Transition Difficulties for Individuals with Autism . Psychology in the Schools, 681-690.
By: Maritza Reyes-Trevino, M.A., BCBA