I thought I would take a diversion from my writings about diagnosis and talk about summertime! This really came to me today when I was thinking about the ASD kids that I see in therapy and how they divide into two camps (no pun intended) when we look at how they do over the summer. In one camp are the ASD kids who get so stressed by the school environment and all their peers and the noise during the school year that it is now such an awesome and great relief to be out of school for the summer. If they even need to come to therapy at all, they are happy, less anxious, almost like “new kids.” It is so great to see them with that weight lifted off of them, that it makes one seriously consider home schooling them! Their one downfall might be that ALL they want to do is their special interest and they may greatly resist any other expectation, such as doing a chore, running an errand, or having any limits set on their gaming, computer or TV time, since it is “summer vacation” after all. In the other camp are the ASD kids who do not thrive on the lack of structure during summer vacation. They feel bored, or anxious, or have significantly more meltdowns without the structure of the school day. They need to come in more often, and their beleaguered parents need help structuring vacation time enough so that their ASD child can enjoy it too.
Either way, setting up some form of a visual schedule can help. Some families might find it too burdensome or impractical to make a week’s schedule at a time. If that doesn’t come too naturally or is just impractical, you can do one the night before for the next day. You could set approximate times or just put the activities in the order that they are likely to occur, using either words or pictures (clip art or actual photos you have taken of different common activities). So, a summer morning schedule might look like this:
Get dressed; brush teeth and hair.
Pick up room.
TV – One hour.
Chore: put dishes away
If something comes up that changes the plan, the list could just be adjusted at that time. As you can see, this list tries to incorporate the idea of sandwiching the chores (picking up room, putting the dishes away) between the fun activities (for this child, watching TV and doing crafts). If needed, you could add a plan that if an activity is successfully completed, it gets checked off and the child earns points towards a special reward.
Another idea that can help, is to post a calendar up on one wall of the whole summer break, and use color codes to mark off any big upcoming events for which you would like your child to be prepared. This can help them whether or not it is an activity your child enjoys. For instance, if you are going on a camping trip, and your child happens to love camping, then seeing when it is in the summer can help them manage their anticipation about it. They could even cross off the days as it gets closer. Alternatively, if you are going on a camping trip which your child dreads, having it on the calendar can help them recognize that they will have to deal with some nonpreferred activities in the summer. If that is the case, you should make sure to highlight or mark with other colors, the summer days they will enjoy, even if that just means a day when they get to stay home and do “nothing.” Additionally, you could create a visual schedule of a typical camping day, and try to demonstrate that there are some positive parts of going camping (such as having a camp fire) even if your child is focusing on the negative parts (such as not getting to play their video game, or dealing with bugs).
I’ll return to my diagnostic recommendations next time (although I said that yesterday!).
Question: If you are the parent of an ASD child, how does your family do over the summer break? What has worked best for you?