As the final school bell rings to signal the beginning of summer vacation, kids say goodbye to assignments, homework and class routines and begin to relish the long days of freedom. For children on the autism spectrum, however, that final bell marks the end of comforting routine that clearly and cleanly outlined the schedule of their day.
While summer vacation is still fun for kids on the spectrum, the three-month hiatus from a rigid schedule will throw some kids for a loop. Routines comfort children with autism…they like to know what comes next in their day. They don’t like surprises and uncertainty.
And summer days are often filled with changing tasks and trips…and sometimes even variant schedules. Depending on the household dynamic, sometimes even bed times or wake-up times can become erratic throughout the summer.
Set up a calendar to clearly outline the day for kids. Parents can map out breakfast, lunch, snacks and the day’s events. Be sure to include any siblings’ sports activities and appointments to allow children to see the entire day’s outings. If your child functions better on a more rigid schedule, it may be helpful to keep bedtime and wake-up times the same as during the school year.
Some children with autism may not be affected by schedule changes much at all. As our son grew older, he embraced sleeping in and changing up routines. However, if I tell him that we will do an event and later switch up the plans, he does still get upset. When he gets plans set in his mind, he doesn’t roll well with the changes.
Parents may also find that certain summer activities aren’t a great option, as children with autism may have sensory sensitivities. Our son didn’t like water near his face when he was little, and he still cannot stand being out in the heat for longer durations. He also avoided really loud events during his younger years, and he tended to wander…which made crowded playgrounds super stressful. Now that he’s older, many of those sensitivities subsided, but those early years left me with a lot of wisdom about alternative activities for kids on the spectrum.
Looking for ways to keep your son/daughter busy during the summer, here are five kids activities that are perfect for kids on the spectrum:
1. Planetarium Star Shows.
One of the best events I found when my son was in kindergarten was star shows at our local planetarium. Our show was in the evening (it was free), but they also hosted events during the daylight hours. These events aren’t noisy, and kids can move around or lay down. It’s very visual, which keeps their appeal.
2. Splash Pads and Water Fun.
This activity can be a little complicated if your child has water sensitivity. We found a park that had fountains that the kids could run through, but didn’t hit our son in the face (his big sensitivity). Check out local parks and their splash pads…they are an easy way to keep kids cool and have fun. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
3. Movie Days for Kids with Autism.
Blockbuster movies are often released during summer holidays, which makes summer vacation the ideal time to take the kids to the cinema. Unfortunately, the movie experience can be stressful for kids with autism. However, major theater chains like AMC host movie times specifically for children on the spectrum. Kids are free to move around or make noise, and the sound is often turned down and the lights left on.
I took my son to local story times every week. Story times at your local library are free and set up a bit like school. Kids can make crafts, sing songs and listen to stories. If your child craves school time, this could give a bit of the old routine.
5. Activities that embrace their loves.
Many kids with autism have a certain hobby or topic that they absolutely love. Ladybugs and weather were ours! Seek out activities that embrace their passions. We once took our son to the weather station (our local office of the National Weather Service). Our son loved it!
While summer is often a time to relax and live without a schedule, kids on the spectrum may still need that daily schedule for comfort. Create a weekly calendar and display it for kids to see and review each day. Schedule daily appointments, games…and, of course, be sure to schedule in lots of FUN!
Thank you to Amy Williams for this guest post.