6 Ways to Plan an Impactful Summer for Your Child with Autism

For many children, summer is a time of excitement, spontaneity, and freedom. For those on the autism spectrum, however, it also translates to a lack of routine, which can bring anxiety and overwhelm. 

Because children with autism rely so much on having a predictable schedule, planning and preparing them ahead of time is essential. Use the tips below to help start the process.

Maintain a Routine Schedule

To provide consistent structure, try where you can to maintain a regular schedule. At schools like Gersh Academy, students are accustomed to a very structured schedule each day. Leaving it for a much more open summer can be nerve-racking. 

To start, keep a regular bedtime, even if it’s pushed a bit later than usual, a limit on screen time, and a set meal time. Though there may be some push back at times, the consistency will reduce their anxiety overall.

Include Your Child While Planning

To help your child with autism feel more control over the unpredictable summer months, allow them some input where possible. For instance, if they have an interest in history, have them help you plan a day at a museum. If fish are fascinating to them, plan with them a day trip to an aquarium, using the aquarium’s map as a guide. This will give them a sense of ownership – and a lot of excitement!

Annual traditions can help ground your child by giving them something to expect that happens each year. Start each summer by going to their favorite park or restaurant. Plan a favorite activity to end each summer. This way, your child will know something fun is coming and add some additional structure.

Work On Flexibility Skills

Some autistic children struggle with a sudden change of plans. The summer is a good chance to practice flexibility. If they are looking forward to an event, like going to a particular playground, review potential backup plans with them in case of a storm. Include them in creating some options.

For many of our students, using the Premack principle is an effective strategy. That means requesting they complete an activity they may not want to do before they engage in their preferred activity. If your child is asking for non-stop snacks or video games, request they complete a chore or go outside for a specific amount of time prior to allowing those activities.

Use Visuals To Help Prepare

For learners with autism, visuals tend to be the most effective, especially with younger children. As you make all of these plans, try to make them as visual as possible. Make a calendar that shows visually when to expect special days or vacations. 

In addition, social stories are a helpful tool to prepare your child for an upcoming summer activity. Include visuals with the story to increase how effective it is. Set expectations for the activity in the story, and reinforce those expectations during the outing. 

As the activities, vacations, and day trips get closer, review what to expect on a regular basis.

Research Local Summer Camps

It can be anxiety-producing to enroll your child on the autism spectrum in a summer camp because you don’t know the support they will receive in the setting or how they will transition. However, many children benefit from the structured environment and provide them the socialization they don’t typically experience as much while out of school.

There are a variety of options for camps in the area, depending on the needs of your child. Today, there are countless options that focus on children with special needs:

  • Autism Camps: These camps typically have staff that is trained to work with children on the autism spectrum, and use programming adapted to their needs. Many have a focus on social skills, and understand any challenges and behaviors your child may display.
  • Inclusive Camps: These programs include children with and without disabilities. They often focus on socializing and participating in new activities with neurotypical peers, with an understanding of any struggles that arise.
  • Special Needs Camps: Special needs camps are open to any children with a diagnosis, including autism spectrum disorder. The benefit to these camps is that your child can meet others who may experience difficulties in the same way they do, and focus on specific skills over the summer that can help with those difficulties. 

Before enrolling your child in any camp, make sure your child has an interest in the activities. This will always help make the transition easier. Also, reach out to the program director if you have any questions about inclusion of children with autism.

Take Time To Hone Skills of Interest

Without the pressure of school, taking time to work on skills that your child is interested in or that your child needs can be a good use of the summer’s free time. Many libraries host a reading program for grade school children that includes prizes. This can motivate your child to log some reading hours over the summer. 

Additional sensory play to address any concerns can be a positive addition to your child’s routine. Include time in a sandbox or daily time in water to help regulate their system. 

If your child has a preference for music or a specific sport, take time to enroll them in lessons or have them join a team. That way, they learn a new skill in a calmer time of year and often have the added benefit of increased socialization.

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