Summer is here. Most of us love the long days and warm nights. Families enjoy trips to the beach, outdoor festivals, swimming at the pool, family picnics and more. Summer is not so easy for all families however. Families with special needs children, particularly those with autism, often have difficulty dealing with the heat, noise and unpredictability of summer itself.
Families want to be able to enjoy this time when their child is not in school and home with them, but how can they best prepare their child and themselves for this time?
Our son used to have a really hard time with summer. It was so bad many years ago that I was scared that I would begin to hate summer, my most favorite time of the year. The solution for our family was gradually introducing my son to all the wonderful things summer could hold, but on his terms. This way he had control, and slowly our family started enjoying this time of year.
Here are 5 things we did to help our son enjoy summertime.
5 Things to Do To Help Your Special Needs Child Enjoy Summertime:
1) Use pictograms and children's stories to talk about the season: When he was little, we would use pictograms or stories to talk about how in summer things slow down. There is no school, people go on vacation. It is also hot out. We eat certain foods etc. This helped my son with some of the control issues of the routine changing.
2) Help them overcome water fears by enrolling children in swimming lessons: Like many children on and off the spectrum, my son had water fears when he was little. I started him late in swimming lessons, two years old, but within a few years he was swimming like a pro and enjoying being in the water cooling off.
3) Sensitize them to outdoor events by going early and leaving after a short amount of time: For our son, hot noisy family fairs did not work unless we were the first to arrive and one of the first to leave. Until he learned about turn taking, how to handle noises and stayed close enough to us that we knew it was safe, we would not stay long. The same went for BBQ's at friends' houses. We explained that he needed time afterwards to come home, decompress, and be able to try something new the next day.
4) Bring a sensory bag of toys along everywhere: We still do this today many years later even though he doesn't even use the toys most of the time. By sensory toys, I mean fidget or squeeze toys, thera putty, headphones if the environment is too noisy, and I do my best to remind him of the "the rules" before we leave.
5) Balance time with friends/family and time alone for your child: This is the best piece of advice I could give. Most children on the spectrum need time to come down after outings or events, time to "stim" as many call it. These stims are necessary for our kids to come back to themselves, feel their bodies and adjust to our fast-paced and hectic world. I always allow our son this time when we come home or else a meltdown is sure to arise as he gets wired.
However you and your family like to spend time, just remember to be patient with your child. Once they can see there is a certain predictability in summer activities as there are during the rest of the year, they will relax and begin to enjoy doing fun activities with the rest of the family.
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