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Sara Winter

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School Is Out... Now What?

Posted: 07/16/11 10:00 AM ET

The long summer break can be daunting for a lot of kids; unstructured time, extreme heat and other sensory considerations can leave some kids on the autism spectrum (and their parents) overwhelmed and frustrated. Here are a few ideas to shake things up and build some structure into the 60 days of summer:

Take a Ride:
We're forever carting our kids around in our cars. There are so many patterns of behavior that that go along with this. Why not ditch the steering wheel and take a ride together? Subways, commuter trains and city buses are a great way to see things at the same time and share perspective. The steady movement can be really regulating and it gives a great opportunity for communication because there is so much visual stimulation to use as a springboard to spark verbal or non-verbal communication.

Drumming:
Drum circles may be a little new to some of us, but they are one of the most ancient forms of communication. Big African drums can be an incredibly regulating experience and participating in a drum circle together can really get those endorphins flowing. Drumming is more in the body than in the head and provides a great opportunity for non-verbal communication. The beat of the drum speaks on our most primal level, getting those neurons firing and creating a mind/body connection that puts us all in a great place to connect with one another.


Cooking:
Many of us struggle to get food on the table after a long day of work and parenting. Sometimes slowing down the process can offer an incredible opportunity for creativity and connection. If your child has sensory issues surrounding food, cooking together can be a great way to get your child's system to begin to consume food in other ways by touching it, smelling, and even seeing it in its original form. Start small, and think collaboratively... let your child have a role be it gathering ingredients, measuring, or following a recipe. Create together in the tiniest of baby steps -- lots of great visual and tactile stimuli to work with here.


Take an Interest in Their Special Interest:
Does your son or daughter have a special interest? Oftentimes kids on the spectrum use their special interest as a way to decompress in solitude, but sometimes, they may let us in to explore it with them. Its nice for our kids to be the expert for once, and to educate us on exactly who that Star Wars guy is or how long it took them to get that key they needed to get to a certain level in a video game. Ask them about it and find something in it that genuinely interests you.


Do What You Love:
Having a child with special needs doesn't always give parents a chance to have needs of their own. But the truth of the matter is, when we're doing something we love, we are calm, regulated, and available to connect with our kids. So what do you love to do? What is that thing that opens you up and gets your own endorphins flowing? Yoga? Karate? Surfing? What can you share with your son or daughter that speaks to who you are or what your perspective might be? Again, it's usually important for the child to have a concrete role that is manageable to hold onto. If hiking is your thing, maybe your child can be the navigator and create a map for what your route is. If dancing in the kitchen is your thing, maybe your child can create the playlist. It is so important for both of you to have an active role in making the experience enjoyable.

Even the smallest connected moments are the seeds by which everything else grows. Rethinking the way we interact with our kids as they grow older is both exciting and a challenge, so work in small blocks of time with manageable goals. Think outside the box and allow yourself to have needs too.

Your son or daughter will see you in a whole new light.


Sara Winter is a classroom aide to kids with autism and the founder of Squag.com, a new social platform for kids on the autism spectrum to connect with one another. Sara lives in Toronto with her husband and two young sons.