Autism and Summer Transition

Summer vacation is nearly upon us.  This is the time of year that I love and hate.  As a mom with school-aged children, I always look forward to June.  No more homework to manage or lunches to pack.  Next year’s IEP is in the can.  For most parents, it’s a time to catch our collective breath and break away from the daily grind.  For parents raising children with special needs, and autism in particular, summer time is not always so care-free.  

Over the years, I’ve found the school-to-summer transition can be rather challenging.  By late April and May, this ASD family has it down.  Nine months into the school year and we’ve finally mastered the routine.  My kids are doing homework (mostly) without threat of torture.  They make the school bus nearly everyday.  Day Light Savings is behind us.   We’re rocking it.  Then it hits us.  School’s out.

Since my children don’t qualify for ESY (Extended School Year) services in my state, it’s up to me to create structure.  Most children thrive with structure, but for kids on the spectrum, it is an absolute necessity.  Every spring I put pen to paper and map the summer.  Who’s doing what, when, and how in the world are they going to get there (and back home)?  More importantly, will the camp leader or activity director understand and be sympathetic to children on the spectrum or other special needs.  My children’s disabilities may seem invisible at first glance.  I never try to hide my children’s challenges to camp directors or leaders.  I’m quite forthright.  When I begin my conversation with the powers that be, I usually know within the first 5 seconds if it will be a good fit or not.  Many “neuro-typical” day camps are staffed with enthusiastic college kids.  These well-intentioned young adults are not trained in working with special needs children.  If the camp or activity isn’t open to your child, it’s usually best to move on.

Providing structure with less demanding activities keeps the peace (routine), but also gives children many new learning and social opportunities where they can be successful.  Some options include:

  • special needs camps
  • summer autism camps
  • social skills groups
  • special interest camps (Lego, computer programming, engineering, cooking, space, art, dance, theatre) 

For mothers working outside the home, adequate and qualified childcare is usually a challenge.  I’ve roamed the internet for nannies, posted ads in newspapers, at colleges, and on church bulletin boards.  After several care-takers, I’ve been blessed to find a capable and compassionate college student who is returning for second summer.  She enforces the rules, is a great role model, and shuttles my kids to camps, social skills, music therapy, tutoring, you name it.  She’s an absolute godsend.  Good care is out there, but it may take time.  Start the nanny search early.   

No matter how well I plan, micro-manage, or massage the process, my kids still have a difficult time adjusting, even when the demands are significantly less than during the school year.  I combat this angst by giving each child their own color-coded summer calendar.  There are many free calendar pintables online . My kids know what they’re doing, when, where, and who will be transporting them (a very important detail for my son).  Best of all, they take responsibility for knowing their own schedule.  Summer down time and relaxation are still in the offing.  I include down days (freedom days) on their calendars.  They love it!  The summer calendar sheets are simple and help eliminate drama and melt-downs.  I’ve learned (the hard way) that they day to leave for an out-of-town-vacation is NOT the day after school lets out…no matter how thrilling the destination may be!  It’s best to wait a few days so everyone can decompress before hitting the open road.  Peaceful transitions are possible; they just take a little planning.  Wishing you and yours a very happy and safe summer!