Preparing Your ASD Child for an Easy End-of-school Transition
Schools across the country will soon begin closing their doors for summer break. As you know, transitions like this can be difficult for a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Thoughts of shifting to a summer schedule can also trigger mixed emotions in you and your spouse as well, depending on your situation.
You may be looking forward to getting a break from trying to get everyone out of the house and to school on time in the mornings, or the struggles of getting your child to do her homework. On the other hand, you might be worried about the lack of structure and how you will keep your child appropriately occupied. You also might be concerned about finding quality childcare if you are a working parent.
Would you like to know a way to make summer time enjoyable for both you and your child?
What if I told you it required some work on your part but the results would be well worth it?
I know you are busy – there is no other way to be when you have a child with autism. But it is possible to use the time you have differently in order to get a better outcome.
Here are your choices:
1 - You can do nothing and spend x amount of hours per day this summer dealing with your child’s boredom, whining, meltdowns or other challenging behaviors
2 - You can minimize all that by spending a few quality hours right now to create a plan that will eliminate most of that negative energy.
You do the math. Several stressful hours every week throughout the summer dealing with challenging behaviors OR two to three hours of work now developing a plan to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Which do you choose?
If you are saying, “I don’t have the time to do this.” then you definitely won’t find the time. Instead, believe that it IS possible and make an appointment to sit down with your spouse/partner soon to discuss, brainstorm and schedule what you want your summer to be like. Then communicate the plan to your children and implement it.
Remember, ALL children thrive on predictability. Children with autism and sensory issues thrive better and experience less anxiety when they have a clear picture of what is expected. If they know what is going to happen this summer and when, life for everyone will be calmer.
Here are some guidelines to consider when preparing for the upcoming transition into the summer school vacation months.
Have a conversation. Discuss ideas with all other adults in the household before summer break begins. Talk about what you want the summer to look like. What fun activities or excursions might be possible? What the daily routine will be? What chores are to be completed? What each family member will be responsible for?
Staying positive is important but take some time to also voice the possible obstacles that might get in the way, then problem solve each one. Preparing in advance is one way to increase the chances that summer will unfold, as you would like it to.
Present your ideas. Go over summer plans and expectations with your children. Hold a special family meeting to go over what the summer months will look like. Depending on your circumstances or if your plan is not yet final you may want to allow your children to have some input. Whether you are brainstorming or presenting the final version, take the time to write everything down. Visuals are important for children on the spectrum and will prevent any possibility for confusion later on!
Create a family calendar. Having a large calendar hung in an area where everyone can see it is a great visual for everyone to focus on and stay informed. This helps to keep track of the activities that are going on, whether it’s a family vacation, summer camp, organized summer sports or "do nothing" days. This way, when something new comes up you can refer to the calendar and know whether it will interfere with something else that is already planned. Such a calendar will not only inform your children about what to anticipate but it will help them prepare for transitions.
Find balance. Although you don't need to create a schedule for every minute of the day, creating a summer routine that replaces the school-time routine will help your child feel more stable and less anxious. One of the biggest summertime challenges is how to balance structure and routine with fun and flexibility.
If your calendar has nothing in particular planned at certain times of the day try scheduling 'free time'. This may not sound like a structured activity but it is possible to have structure within 'free time'. Simply list ‘free time’ choices such as daily time for reading, individual hobbies/special interests, and playtime with others. You can even create a 'free time' jar with all your ideas for children to pick from.
Don't forget quiet time for self. Thinking of ways to self-entertain is a skill all children need to learn.
Continue therapeutic and educational activities. Maintaining your child’s therapeutic program is usually a given but children should maintain an academic component as well. Continuing to challenge your child’s brain during the lazy more flexible days of summer can avoid the summer brain drain and save you time consuming work come fall. When a child’s mind is not educationally challenged and allowed to run on idle for one to two months, it sets the stage for your child to slide back academically.
Engage your children. If you are planning any family trips or outings make it a learning experience for all. If appropriate, have your children map out routes, make lists of what to bring, and help shop for the items needed. Inviting their participation in a way that acknowledges their usefulness will help instill ownership into the activity and defray any resistance that may be harboring within. It will also provide your child time to become familiar with the ideas. Thus providing her with more time to adjust and transition better when it is time to leave.
Always have a plan B. Know that life happens and schedules will be upset. Learn to roll with the punches and role model appropriate ways to deal with disruption and adjust to unanticipated schedule changes. See it as an opportunity to inject fun and humor into the situation, "If life gives you lemons - make lemonade.” Whether you are a working parent or stay-at-home mom or dad, your goal to reduce summer time stress is achievable if you are mindful of the things that trigger anxiety in your child.
Remembering to plan ahead, anticipate challenges and pay attention to what works best in meeting the needs of all individuals will increase the possibility for a pleasant summertime experience. Enjoy!