Summer is here and you and your family suddenly find yourselves in a different gear. Now that school is out there is more unstructured time available. Not only has summer vacation brought an end to school based learning for your child but for you it has brought an end to -
running from one after school activity to another.
rushing to get everyone out of bed and to school and work on time.
squeezing in appointments, lessons and other activities for all family members.
Ah, isn’t all that extra time great? But you know and I know that despite the change in routine we tend to fill that time up very easily without even thinking about it. We all have default modes that we slip into and a summer schedule with too much downtime for our children can be one of them if we are not careful.
Yes our children need a break, and so do we, but an overabundance of unscheduled, unstructured time is apt to create battles we would much rather avoid as parents. Our children may welcome this retreat from teachers and books but it is important to maintain a schedule that continues to challenge our child’s mind, especially a child with autism that needs constant reinforcement to keep precious brain wiring in place. The ideal to strive for is a summer schedule that will not only maintain but expand brain growth as well.
Research has shown that brains are stimulated in many ways. In addition to the cognitive learning that occurs in a structured classroom setting, brain connections expand through physical activity, social interaction and emotional security as well.
So what do we need to consider when building a schedule in order to address these four essential areas that optimize brain growth?
How can we ensure that not only our child with autism, but our other children as well, will fill those time gaps with brain building activities?
Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you create a balanced and brain healthy schedule for your children over the summer months.
1) Physical health - How will I schedule ways to keep my child in motion and be creative about providing my child with healthy brain food this summer?
Nutrition: The creation of life-long food habits and appetite control are established early on in a child's life. Results from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate that an estimated 16 percent of children and adolescents ages 6-19 years are overweight. Making your child aware of healthy food choices and the importance of a well balanced diet early on will benefit your child's overall well being for years to come.
Physical activity: A decrease in physical inactivity has become a serious problem in the United States. The AHA recommends that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Increased physical activity has been associated with an increased life expectancy, a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and an increased expansion of neural networks in the brain as well as producing overall physical, psychological and social benefits.
2) Social health - How will I provide my child with a well-rounded social experience?
Healthy relationships: Helping your children develop, maintain and sustain a social life is extremely important. Social connections are vital to overall health and brain development. A child on the autism spectrum requires extra assistance in this arena, which means a little more effort on your part. Finding and making relationships through sports, organized groups such as scouts, community service and neighborhood fun are all great places to start.
Difficult relationships: Teaching your child with autism to cope with bullying behavior is imperative in today's world. "Almost 30% of youth in the United States (or over 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both" (The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center). Studies show that helping your child develop a sense of self-confidence and a mindfulness of body language along with conflict resolution skills can help reduce their possibility of being targeted by a bully. Summer is a good time to practice these skills.
3) Emotional health - How will I include opportunities to nurture my child's emotional self?
Emotional intelligence: Studies point to the measure of one's success as being determined more by one's emotional intelligence than by one's academic success or SAT scores. Emotional learning begins early in life and continues throughout childhood. Every single interchange between parent and child has an emotional undertone, and in the repetition of these unspoken messages the core of a child's emotional outlook and capabilities are born. The key components of emotional intelligence are: self-awareness, managing emotions, motivating one-self, empathy and handling relationships. Challenge yourself to pick one of these areas and mindfully focus on helping your child expand it.
4) Cognitive health – How will I continue to provide an environment conducive to my child's continued learning?
Learning style: Children are so unique that even within the same family you will find differences in temperament and learning style. Take the time to understand how your child learns best. Once you comprehend your child's unique way of grasping concepts you can adjust your environment accordingly, thereby making learning more accessible and enjoyable.
Media management: Research shows that brain development in children matures best when children are interacting with people and the world around them. Too much time with screen machines for amusement purposes only can have a detrimental impact on: cognitive ability, attention span, language abilities, creativity, intrinsic motivation, and social skills. Don’t let TV babysit your child during the summer months.
Contemplating these questions will guide you to create a brain healthy summer for your child. Once you adjust your child’s schedule to accommodate all conditions for optimal brain growth, your child will be less likely to complain he or she is bored and more likely to enjoy a stimulating break from school.
For more strategies to maintain progress and make school a more positive experience for your child click here to access AUTISM PARENTING: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience – Over 300 tips for parents to enhance their child’s school success.