Summer is thought to be a break for kids, offering a time for families to set the homework aside. But for families living with autism, a long break from the classroom can lead to regression or even the loss of skills. With some planning and creativity, parents can make summer a time for their child to maintain skills, or even make progress. Consider these ten ideas to help with your plan and spark your creativity.
- Make every moment count. Children with autism need to travel to appointments and therapy sessions all the time. Plan ahead for car time, standing in line, or waiting in the office lobby. Have engaging activities for your child ready with options for your child to choose from. Does your child need to work on making sounds, recognizing words, naming people? Bring flashcards everywhere and practice. To make it more rewarding, keep a recipe box or other container for your child to deposit each “finished” flashcard throughout the day until he/she’s done them all.
- Consider what your child needs to learn and keep that as your focus whenever possible. Whether it’s buckling his own seatbelt, getting herself dressed, raising her hand, getting a drivers license and much more, find ways to incorporate skill building activities into every day.
- What is something YOU like to do? Do you love biking? Help your child bike with you, or learn this skill himself. From buddy-bikes, to finding a neighbor kid volunteer, to camps, there may be a perfect option to help your child gain this skill. Does your child have therapy services in the summer? Talk with the team to add goals that you can work on as a family outside therapy time. Bring the bike to therapy, ask for help with what to do at home. Use these same principles for other skills whether you want to teach a cooking skill, drawing, swimming, etc…
- Presume competence. We know our children understand far more than they can say. Assume your child hears you and understands you. Remind her what you want her to learn. Talk to (not about) your child all the time.
- Get moving! Exercise is important for the entire family. If you can think of the perfect exercise, start by taking a walk. Search for camp opportunities, day programs, or outings your family can consider in your area. Contact your school’s activities director and ask for all the activities in your child’s district so you can consider working on one of them before fall. Ask questions and search to learn about options in your area such as Special Olympics, Adapted Athletics, and your local Parks and Recreation Department. Contact universities in your area to see if there are classes or camps. Check TACA’s lengthy list of activities to help your family Get Moving.
- Get smart with smart phones - Kids like seeing themselves so get your phone out and snap pics and selfies with your child. Use it as a prompt so your child can show a sibling what she did that day. Use the FaceTime feature and have your child call a favorite person. This also allows use of sign language if your child is pre-verbal. Set it up ahead of time (you can even give example questions to ask your child) to help ensure a good experience. Another way to help your child practice communicating with others is via text. Help your child send a text to a favorite teacher, friend, relative and help him read the reply.
- The best time to help your child be healthier is any time but summer is a great time to get the GFCF diet started for your child. Learn as much as you can, pick a day on the calendar, and start.
- Summer is a great time to start a new treatment, learning program or supplement. It allows time to focus on taking things one step at a time and watching for result. Talk to your child’s providers and get help considering what to start over the summer months. Does your child need practice with peers? Maybe another child can be added to your child’s speech therapy session, swimming lesson or other learning time.
- Play! Sensory buckets are a great way to incorporate learning in a fun way. Hide toys, flashcards, etc in the bucket (filled with rice or beans, for example) and as your child finds them, she can label what was found. Or use a sack of items and have your child reach in without looking. “Ned’s Head” is an example of a game that uses this idea.
- Social Skills - It’s hard to work on social skills with others if your child doesn't have activities he enjoys and can do easily. Practice things he can eventually learn to do with someone such as Uno and Go Fish, Puzzles, shooting basketball hoops, playing catch and anything that involves turn-taking.
**Keep a journal and make notes about your child’s progress throughout the summer. It will be a rewarding reminder that your planning paid off. Alternatively, if you find that your child has not maintained skills, gained skills or learned something new, you’ll have a record to share with your child’s IEP team to support the idea for year-round services.
Parents can learn more by joining TACA’s Hope and Help FaceBook Group, attending a free Webinar, going to a TACA Coffee Talk or applying for a Parent Mentor (or all of the above!).