by Sean Morris
Ridgewood NJ, For many families, the summer months are an ideal time to take a break, visit with friends and
family, take vacations, and relax. But for parents of children on the autism spectrum, when school is out it can be difficult to adjust to a new routine and schedule, which can cause stress at home. It’s important to remember that there are things you can do to make things a bit easier on your family, and that no two children are the same when it comes to what works.
Because many children on the autism spectrum look forward to school days and the structure they provide, it’s critical for most families to maintain a routine that makes the child feel safe so that anxiety doesn’t take over. Here are some of the best ways to make summer break as stress-free as possible.
Don’t be tempted by the screen
Because home and school are often the two “safest” places for children on the autism spectrum– the places they feel the most comfortable in– summer break can often mean long days spent at home watching television or playing games on phones and devices. That’s okay in moderation, but it’s a good idea to try and get your child outside for scheduled playtimes when weather
permits. Trips to the park or even a day camp are wonderful ways to get your child out of their cocoon and into social, active situations.
Try to keep up the usual schedule
It’s not always easy to maintain the same routines over a break as during the school year, but integrating most of them into the day can be extremely helpful to your child. If changes will upset them, talk to them before the end of the school year about what will be different and consider making charts to help them visualize how things will go. For example, draw up a small
poster with pictures for each activity and the time it will occur: 8 a.m.– breakfast, then teeth brushing, then off to camp, home, snack, dinner, computer time, brush teeth, bed.
Think about your child’s specific needs
It can be hard to remember everything when you’re getting ready for a trip; even if you’re just going to the library for a couple of hours, there are sippy cups, soothing toys, diaper bags, and snacks to worry about. If your child has potty issues or doesn’t like using restrooms outside of the house, it’s a good idea to take them to various public places and have them “practice” using
the toilets to allow them to acclimate before you take a vacation or road trip. Libraries, children’s museums, and big chain supermarkets usually have clean facilities that are equipped with changing stations. Consider giving your child a small reward when he or she uses a public restroom successfully, but if it causes them stress and they balk at first, try not to get
discouraged. Most public bathrooms are loud and many have automatic toilets and sinks, which can cause anxiety for a child.
Rest is super important
For older kids, summer break means not getting up early in the morning, and most children love the idea of staying up late playing video games or watching television. But if you’re trying to stay on the usual schedule, staying up late will only make matters worse. Try to get your child on a good sleep routine that includes no computer or television screens for at least an hour before bed, and if they complain of trouble sleeping there are certain foods and drinks you can have them try that will have a calming effect before bedtime.
Summer break doesn’t have to be a stressful experience for your child. A little bit of good planning can go a long way! Try to stay patient and remember that they want to enjoy the summer, too.
Sean Morris is a former social worker turned stay-at- home dad. He knows what it’s like to juggle family and career. He did it for years until deciding to become a stay-at- home dad after the birth of his son. Though he loved his career in social work, he has found this additional time with his kids to be the most rewarding experience of his life. He began writing for LearnFit.org to share his experiences and to help guide anyone struggling to find the best path for their life, career, and/or family.