As we enter into summer, we realize families are faced with varied schedules, camps, BBQs, trips, hot temperatures, and lots of swimming! While these things all sound nice to many of us, it is crucial to understand that children with autism can often struggle when faced with breaks or inconsistencies in routines, chaotic or busy environments, cookouts in which their preferred foods may not be options, weather that they struggle to regulate or communicate overheating, and requests to get out of the pool or lake at times that cause tantrums and frustrations. This is not reason to avoid all summer activity though! It is crucial to expose children to these types of experiences to desensitize them to these various circumstances, help them learn to regulate and communicate when it’s most meaningful, and also to expose them to experiences that lead to richer social opportunities and language development in the long term. That said, there are quick tips to help ease these potentially hard experiences at first:
- Use visual schedules or first/then boards to outline expectations ensuring they can see that their choices are still part of that schedule.
- Provide areas/options for taking a break from company, noise, expectations, or heat so they can extend their participation longer overall.
- Bring along preferred toys/items/activities to help pair what they love with what they are unsure of or hesitant about.
- Start small! If a larger BBQ or 4th of July party is on the horizon, test out some smaller, family BBQs first to get some momentum and identify what will work or not work next time.
- Choose your battles! If following through with something is not your top priority when you’re at the summer party/event, don’t give the direction or demand in the first place! This might mean you pack your child’s favorite food even though it’s not normally served at the BBQ as your priority is to relax yourself and you don’t want to start the demand of following through on eating a new food that day!
- Consider transition activities. When having to transition from a VERY highly preferred activity to less preferred activity, sometimes it’s easier when there is something in between that is neutral or preferred prior to the demand. For example, if swimming is the best and getting dressed/changed is the worst, perhaps the direction to get out of the pool is to get a highly preferred snack first before going right to changing!
Remember, we all have preferences around how we spend our summer and kids with autism need their own breaks and fun, but so do parents! There may be times where getting a babysitter or family friend makes more sense, so that as a parent, you can go enjoy what you love without stress or worry about how much your child will enjoy the event.
For more tips, tricks and easy reads consider the Topics in Autism series! (some of the series can be found on this Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2l70Vzx but the list is even more extensive!)