The cliched image of children running and screaming with joy after the last day of school isn’t always the case. While each part of the school day may not necessarily be exciting or fun for children on the autism spectrum, the structure and predictability of a routine schedule is often a source of comfort. This is why a lot of children with autism experience heightened levels of anxiety during the summer break from school. Here are some ways to help alleviate this stress.
Help Your Child Build a Summer Structure of Their Own
Much of the anxiety about summer break beginning can be eased by transitioning to a new schedule that has been planned out in advance. Be sure to talk with your child in the few weeks prior to summer break to explain the change in schedule, and to help them develop a summer schedule they can expect. Fill this schedule with a morning routine to get ready for the day, fun outdoor games, productive indoor activities, mealtimes and snack times, and a going to bed schedule. Since a lot of children on the autism spectrum suffer from learning disabilities, you may also consider adding in short academic lessons throughout the week to help your child retain their lessons from the school year.
Make the Schedule Visual, and Specific
Visual cues are an especially valuable tool for helping children with autism. You can use basic computer software to create a table with specific times and images of activities, along with descriptions, for the schedule of each day of the week. Make sure it’s a schedule you can stick to yourself! You will want to make sure the schedule makes sense and is realistic. For instance, make sure you don’t schedule a physical activity right after bath time. Once you have your set schedule, laminate it and hang it in key locations.
Incorporate Your Child’s Areas of Interest
Children with autism often take on obsessive interests. While these interests can be productive at times, they can lead to distraction, especially during the school year when there are many different subjects to attend to. The summer months can be a golden opportunity to allow your child to invest more time into their special areas of interest. For instance, if your child is focused on cars, add to the schedule to go to the library on a regular basis to find books about cars.
Make Physical Activity a Priority
The absence of classes each day allows more time to engage in games and activities that are beneficial for building motor skills and coordination. Summer is a perfect opportunity to engage in activities in the water, which tends to be a particularly beneficial way for children with autism to get their body moving and achieve a sense of calm.
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