How many more days until school starts again? As we reach the summit of summertime, I find myself wondering how much longer I will be able to handle all of this magical season I longed for in May. As parents, we allow “school’s out for summer” nostalgia to trick our minds into being excited about the carefree days of summer. And for a few weeks, if we are lucky, saying goodbye to alarm clocks, school-day schedules and afternoon carpooling admittedly feels a bit liberating.
But inevitably, nostalgia dissolves to reality and we remember we aren’t the kids of summer anymore. Being a “stay-at-home mom of summer” just doesn’t bring the same fun, especially when one of my kids has autism. So, I prepare and I’m ready when reality rises with the temperatures.
For us, summer has become equal parts adventure and survival. The schedules I wished away are reworked and pulled back in - secure safety nets when the days of adventure have him feeling a bit out of control. This summer, through a parent-driven Relationship Integration Program, we have learned more than ever that we can use the endless hours of summer to strengthen him and, as a family, our relationships with him.
Just like anything else…some days we sink and some days we SOAR. So as I eye the second half of summer with the twinkle of the school bell slowly coming into view, I remind myself of the following to enable us to stay afloat for the duration.
Boredom Breeds Behaviors
At the beginning of the summer I remember reading a post called, “Let Them Be Bored”, where the author explained that boredom leads to creativity, boredom encourages innovation and children shouldn’t expect to be constantly entertained. I get it…it’s old school, and I like that. I also know that she is not talking to me or any other parent of a special needs kiddo because for my son, boredom breeds behaviors.
Boredom is not safe for him…he acts out seeking engagement. So, I find a way to fill his days.
Channeling My Inner Camp Counselor
At the beginning of every summer I have this dream of yelling at my kids, “I’m not your Camp Counselor! Go make your own fun!” I told you, I’m an old school parent in my soul, the bonus of special needs in my life just doesn’t allow me to follow through with my often burning desire to just “let them figure it out”. So after having my dream of defiance, I rally and plan.
I put him in a school camp or home becomes camp and I used to always prefer the former rather than the latter. This summer, his time is split cleanly down the middle and that school camp is already in the rear view. After a rocky start to home camp, we are finally finding our groove. I’m not entertaining him all day and he has downtime…but we follow a schedule so he knows what to expect. Managing his expectations leads to his feeling a sense of control and who doesn’t like to feel in control?!
Schedule is not a Four Letter Word
Did I tell you that I dream of schedule free days of endless boredom?! I do. But schedules are our road map to happy in this house because they help him visualize his day, to know what is coming next and to feel successful as the schedule ends each day. Do you see the theme here? Schedules reinforce safety and feeling safe makes him feel in control. Kids who feel safe and in control are better prepared to handle life’s tricky transitions.
Did I forget to say that my son hates transitions? I don’t know many special needs kids that love them. You know what a schedule does? It forecasts transitions allowing plenty of time for my son to prepare and be ready to tackle them.
It takes a bit of effort to schedule our days but I love the fact that he feels like he is conquering the world – or better yet, controlling it – when actually, I’m cartographer who is drawing the roads down which he is traveling. Didn’t I say we all like to feel in control?
Here are a few tips to help you navigate the remainder of the summer and any “footloose and fancy free” time that lies ahead. Have fun with creating the map that will enable your kid to begin to feel he or she is charting the course – or at least feel a bit more like the captain of their own boat.
Set summer goals and create a schedule around them.
Life Skills – You can always be working on a list of life skills for your kid. Some come more easily than others and some are just unlearning bad behaviors.
Academics – 3 months of downtime often results in a regression for kids with autism and other special needs. DON’T let them stop learning. Whatever grade they just finished, spend the summer reviewing the math and reading for that age…and even moving forward to the next grade if they are ready.
Apps and online programs make this fun! Just Google their grade and subject and find the ones you like best.
Make a summer folder of worksheets – combine math and reading ones with fun ones like crosswords, Dot to Dot and mazes...Pinterest has loads of free, printable worksheets!
Behaviors – Take this time to continue to address any problem behaviors
Comfort Zone +1 – Most of our kids have a very specific comfort zone and they don’t like to go outside of it. Seize opportunities to take them a bit out of their comfort zone at least once a week. They will feel brave and they will grow.
Embrace the old school idea that chores instill responsibility...because it is the #truth. This will prove beneficial for the whole family. Start simple and build.
Assembly-line the job as you empty the dishwasher. (Encourages peer engagement)
Assign areas to help put away groceries…one kid gets the pantry, one gets the fridge, etc.
Setting the table – You can make this fun if you have a drawer of old party paper plates like we do, we let them make it festive
Have FUN. Being camp counselor will be exhausting but also rewarding. Build FUN and adventure into their days and invite friends over to play.
Summer is a siren signaling us all to come along and enjoy the ride. Learning how to ride the waves and weather the storms has made me appreciate the views along the way so much more. I hope you embrace these remaining days with your kids, too, because even though three months can seem like forever, the sun will eventually set on summer.
Vice President of The Huckleberry Foundation
My son is nine years old and I’ve spent the last seven years becoming intimately aware of his needs and how they make him special. They are his and his alone and one thing I know for sure is that I will never stop learning what I can to more fully support him, to actively encourage his independence and most importantly, to completely engage socially and emotionally with him.