Summer. Break. **cue dramatic horror film melody: dunh dunh duuuuunnnh**
Those words when strung together are enough to send a shiver of terror down my spine and in to my flip flops. The Summer Break Scaries is phrase I use to describe the panic that sets in as I prepare my ASD child for transitioning from a set school schedule five days a week, to the relaxed schedule that comes with summertime. The Scaries begin early in May and our school break begins in late June. That’s almost two months worth of planning, plotting and pure nerves.
Most autism spectrum kids, and especially those with general anxiety disorder (GAD) like my 7 year old son, find schedules and daily routines an absolute nessecity.
“Reality to an autistic person is a confusing interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights. Set routines, times, particular routes,and rituals all to help to get order into an unbearably chaotic life. Trying to keep everything the same reduces some of the terrible fear.”
—Therese Jolliffe, Richard Lansdown & Clive Robinson.Autism: A Personal Account (The National Autism Society, 1992). Reprinted article from Communication. http://www.oneworld.org/autism_uk/publica.html Reader: brilliant first-person account. Therese Jolliffe is an autistic person with a PhD for research into autism. [autism,reprint,account]
While the Summer Break Scaries are a very real thing for special needs families, there are some strategies you can use to help aleviate the stress for your kiddo.
Here are the 4 most important strategies we use in our home:
1. Make a calendar
This is the biggest, guys. Honestly, calendars are an everyday thing for us. Our calendar plays an even bigger part as summer approaches. The abstract concept of time can be difficult for a child on the spectrum so a calendar helps give a sense of sequense and time. It is comforting to OJ to have a feel for what comes next.
Make the calendar visible every day. We keep ours in the kitchen and let the kids mark on it. Like this!
2. Fill the space
Make plans. Lots of them. And do it as far in advance as possible. Planning is seriously my joy. Unfortunately, my planning is so much better than my execution.
I sit down and think of all the fun stuff I want to fit in during the summer. I write it all down on a piece of paper BEFORE I work on it with the kids. This helps reduce any confusion and keeps the process straightforward.
OJ gets a gleam in his eye when I say “it’s calendar time!” He absolutely loves working with dates and planning outings using a calendar. I mean, the kid can remember what we did on October 11, 2016 at 9am; Pete the Cat storytime at the library, then a chocolate chip cookie at Panera before coming home for some iPad time. Incredible, right?
Free time can be difficult for the ASD child because there is not enough structure to it. This can cause anxiety. We fill the calendar full with super fun dates and we love it that way. Vacations! Community Events! Fireworks! Boat rides! Beach days! BIRTHDAYS!
Now, this part may be stressful for your child if social events are overwhelming to him. Let your kiddo take the lead on this.
3. Go with the flow
Last year we enrolled OJ in private swim instruction with a teacher that works in a special needs PE class during the school year. At the time, OJ was thrilled about this and loved the water. This year, however, has been… different. He is currently expressing his distaste for “help”. He just doesn’t want anyone to help him. I get it.
While I do like that he’s expressing his desires and wants to be more independent, I’m not feeling allowing him to dive into the deep end with out support. We are simply not there yet.
We’ve had to go with the flow on lessons this year. I notified the swim instructor very early on that he may resist help and there have been cases where we’ve left early (upon his request) as he needs more time to process her “helping” him. I want swimming to be a positive experience. One that he enjoys so he equates the water and swimming with confidence vs fear.
4. Batten down the hatches
All the planning and plotting in the world may not be enough. And that’s ok. There’ll likely be some anxiety and nerves that arise with the changing of seasons seasons, and schedules.
For my 4 year old, it’s heightened sensitivity to sunlight. And for my 7 year old, it’s the schedule change and lack of one on one support that he’s accostomed to during the school year. I simply cannot control those things.
Make the best of the rough times and show your special needs kiddo the patience and understanding he needs during this tough transition. Keeping my boys occupied and providing the most structure I can, is the best I can do.
Most children on the autism spectrum depend on routines and schedules through out the school year. The transition to summer break can be a super scary one! Help them and help yourself by using these strategies.
I promise these strategies work. And if they don’t… well there’s always this:
Do you have a plan of attack you use for your special needs child, to avoid the Summer Break Scaries?