“The summer is different.”
“What an accurate statement!” said Susan Luges, mom to eight year old Charlie. “Every year when school ends, Charlie has a really hard time with the change in routine. We try and keep up with a visual system at home, but it’s so different from his school routine.” Like Charlie, hundreds of children will experience a change due to summer break.
Our children rely on us to provide a sense of comfort and a routine that fits their needs. Some children adapt more easily transitioning from school to summer break. But, when a child feels friends are left behind and may be missing their teacher and classroom, it can really throw them for a loop. With some guidance and preparation, parents, teachers, and caregivers, can help ease your child into a happy and fun summer.
Feelings and Emotions
Did you ever feel like you lost a best friend? Do you remember the hurt and sadness you felt? Well, for a child on the spectrum, those feelings are compounded. No matter what plans have been put into place to keep your child safe and happy, missing the people they have seen on a near daily basis for the past nine months or so, can have quite an impact.
First, let’s talk about how the classroom teacher can do his or her part to support their students during the summer break. Every teacher everywhere can tell you that a child can sense when the end of the school year is nearing. They may see packed boxes, bare walls, or a sense the “how many days are left of school” posted in the classroom. Kids notice everything! They can pick up on cues from you that you don’t even realize you’re showing. To keep the kids and your classroom more manageable during the last days or weeks of school, keep their daily routine the same as it has been throughout the school year. Both you and your kids will benefit from this strategy.
Teachers, talk to your students about summer using a positive approach. Naturally, as adults we look forward to the long summer break, but for our special needs kids, it’s a whole different perspective.
Here are few tips for classroom teachers:
- Keep the student’s routine as “normal” as possible. This would NOT be the time to make any changes, no matter how small.
- Talk about seasons, emphasizing summer and the things and events associated with it (going to the pool, family outings)
- Have the student complete the social narrative, “The summer is different”. I always like to sit with my students one‐on‐one and listen to their responses. It gives me an idea of what I should be saying or doing to help them adjust to the break from school.
- Ask questions. Just like the kids ask you, now it’s your turn to ask them. Encourage them to talk about their feelings when school is over. You’ll be able to find out a lot from even just a few words and an expression.
- Behaviors tend to peak at the end of the school year. Not just one child, but it seems they all just need to “let go” at the same time! Been there, done that. Just hang on and you’ll all get through the last few weeks with flying colors!
Parents and Caregivers (compiled by Jessica Jones, LMFT)
Summer is right around the corner, which means it’s time to start thinking about how to make the transition from school to home easier for your children. As a parent or caregiver of a child with special needs, you know that the slightest change in your child’s routine can cause upheaval and escalation of behaviors. Be assured, if both you and your child are prepared for this major change, your day will run much more smoothly. I’m here to provide some easy ways for you and your child to have a happy, enjoyable summer.
1. Evaluate and Review
If possible, schedule a time to sit down with your child’s teachers to reflect on how the school year went. This is a great way to find out from the teacher what strategies worked best with your child. Your child spends 7‐hours a day with their teacher so they get to learn what techniques work and don’t work. If your child’s teacher has found that a specific strategy has worked, see if you can create that at home as well. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but for children who like routine, keeping things as close to possible may help your child to cope with the changes with less stress. If meeting with your child’s teacher isn’t possible (and don’t worry ‐ for busy parents, sometimes it’s very difficult to do this ‐ see tip #2.)
2. Set Realistic Expectations
When it comes to children of all ages, this is the most important thing I have to remind parents: set realistic expectations. It’s important to remember that some tasks will come easier for some children, while for others, they may be a challenge. You know your child best and what they are capable of. Take that into account when setting expectations. For a lot of children, the summer means no strict schedules, no classes, and no homework. But for children with special needs, this lack of structure can cause them to act out. Be prepared for that. However, by planning ahead, you can help your child make the transition from school to summer easier by letting them know what is going to happen.
3. Involve Your Child in the Planning
Having your child feel like they are involved in what they get to do can be helpful in creating a summer routine. If possible, you can even ask your child what they need to be successful over the summer. They may need suggestions from you, but for children who are asked what they need – instead of just being told – this will make them more likely to be invested in the schedule. Summer can be difficult because while students don’t have to go to school, parents don’t have the luxury of not going to work. If your child has a babysitter over the summer, create a detailed schedule for them to follow with easy activities that your babysitter and child can do together. Also, talk to your babysitter about appropriate expectations so that they can be prepared for what to expect as well. If your child attends camp or summer school, explore with your child by using social stories what this will look like. If possible, you can take your child to the camp or school and show them around so that they can become familiar with the new setting.
4. Schedule Playdates with Familiar Faces
At school, your child is surrounded by other children. Whether your child plays with others or is more of an independent player, planning playdates with friends is a great way to keep your child not only entertained, but also to help them learn appropriate social cues. When your child is playing one‐on‐one and is supervised, you can redirect them if they begin to display any inappropriate behaviors. Over the summer, some children can start to feel isolated so giving them an opportunity to be around other children can help them to feel connected to others.
5. Take Time for Yourself, Too
It’s easy to lose sight of yourself when you’re busy taking care of your children, but as the saying goes, “If you don’t take care of yourself, then who will?” It’s important to remember that you also have needs. It’s okay to ask for help from your partner, grandparents, other family members, neighbors, and even using a babysitter to get some time alone. Try not to be hard on yourself if things don’t go as planned. As beneficial as having a routine is, being flexible is just as important. The summer is a great time to try new activities with your child and create happy memories. Whether it’s a day at the beach, zoo, taking photos outside or drawing pictures, the summer gives you and your child a chance to experience new activities together.
Free Social Narrative for Summer
Download our free social narrative for summer here: http://autismeducators.com/social-narrative-summer-break-for-autism