Lovin’ Summer? How to prepare for all the fun

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Monday was the first day of summer “vacation” in our home. While I’d spent hours upon hours many months ago designing the perfect schedule for our family – robust with inspirational and varied opportunities for my kids – I neglected something, that for my eldest son, is crucial. I forgot to prepare him.

He, like most kids with autism, struggles with transitions. Big or small, almost all take a little extra support from his adult “helpers.” Usually, I do this without thinking. And I guess that’s why I dropped the ball this time; I just wasn’t thinking.

In past summers I have crafted detailed weekly visual schedules, complete with pictures and developing patterns within the schedules since he’s a pattern thinker. As he’s grown and his reading skills emerged, those schedules morphed into more traditional color-coded weekly calendars, but I still create patterns for him. Together we go over these schedules, have lots of talks and, if necessary, whip up a quick Social Story to prepare him for a new camp or class. But this year, beyond updating our iCalendars in the iCloud, I did nothing.

It wasn’t until 11:30 at night that I realized my mistake. I heard the thump of my son’s footsteps on the stairs as he came down. I was frustrated since his bedtime was hours before. He stood before me noticeably anxious. While the words, “Go back to bed,” were forming on my lips, “What are we doing tomorrow?” erupted from my son.

And the light bulb went on. While he’d made it through the day with only mild grumbling and small refusals, my son’s anxiety had been building all day long. Having no idea what the next hour or day held for him, he was unable to relax, couldn’t sleep or enjoy himself.

So we sat down and went through the online calendar together, which is, luckily, color-coded. And I spent my remaining waking hours developing our visual schedules for the summer. He’s referred to his four times today. There has been no grumbling and no refusals. And I’m pretty sure he’ll be able to sleep tonight.

I’m reminded of just how much he relies on these supports but also encouraged to see how far he’s come; from tantrums to grumbles and from meltdowns to negotiations. But best of all is his self-awareness which allows him to ask for what he needs. So that even if I drop the ball, he’ll pick it up and assist.

Things to remember as you transition into summer

  • Use what motivates your child – i.e. color, shapes, characters
  • Take time to create visuals that are meaningful to your child. See our earlier post on Visual Schedules
  • Be aware of your child’s processing ability when creating visual schedules. They may need daily ones broken into hour or half-hour increments. Use pictures if they are not yet reading. Or use both for emerging readers.
  • Display schedules in a space easily accessed by your child.
  • Social Stories are great tools for preparing children for new classes, camps or programs. See our post on Social Stories.
  • Find ways to keep important routines – bedtime, favorite books, breakfast with grandma – so new things are easier to handle.

Author: Shannon

Shannon parents a son on the spectrum, lives in MN and writes to stay sane. She is passionate about connecting families to the services that will transform their lives. Read her full bio here.

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