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Summer Break for Young Kids with Autism
Knowing the best way to keep your toddler, two-year-old, or preschooler with autism happy and active during the summer is challenging. Almost all services through the school district have ended. Other programs take a break or have shortened hours during the summer. That means it’s up to parents and caregivers to fill those long days.
How do we keep our sanity and keep up the progress our child was making in school? Or at least maintain some skills?
I’m going to give you my top 10 summer strategies that you can use to help your toddler, two-year-old, or preschooler with autism (or any other developmental delay).
DO NOT think you have to do all 10 — just choose something that you want to do and have the resources to do!!
#1: Have a General Routine
Most of us do better when we have a routine and schedule. It provides predictability. We know what is expected of us. We know when certain things are going to happen.
This is true too for our youngest kiddos! Add in autism, language delays, sensory issues, etc. and predictability becomes even more critical.
School is very predictable. Same classroom. Same adults. Same kids. Same routine. Same time of day.
We don’t have to be as structuredas school at home, however, having a schedule that you follow will have a positive impact.
You don’t have to be precise on the times. Just follow the same routine. It could look something like:
- Wake up / breakfast
- Get dressed / brush teeth
- Inside play
- Outside play
- Inside play
- Bedtime routine (teeth, story, lights out)
By having the same flow to your day, you are creating predictability and stability and decreasing anxiety and problem behaviors.
Set your routine. See how the first 1-2 weeks go. Make adjustments as you need.
#2: Get Up and Get Ready on “School Days”
If your child was used to getting up and ready on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for preschool, keep that going! It will help a ton when August rolls around.
Get your child up and ready as if they were going to go to school, but then leave to do a quick errand.
Grab a chocolate milk or donut. Fill the car up with gas. Mail a package. Something short and sweet and head back home.
This keeps your child (and you) in the habit of getting up, getting ready, and leaving the house a couple mornings a week.
#3: Same Wake Up and Bed Times
As with #2 above, you’ll thank yourself in August! It’s common to let bed times and wake up times get later and later or more erratic during the summer.
When you have a regular day at home, keep the same bed time and wake up times.
Providing that predictability and sameness will help your child with the bed time routine and being able to get up in the morning.
Sleep problems are very common in young kids with autism and other developmental delays. We can help by having them go to bed around the same time and wake up the same time.
If you’re looking for a great book on fixing sleep issues for kids with autism, I recommend this one!
#4: Ask Your Child’s Teacher or Speech Therapist For Ideas
Before school lets out, email or talk to your child’s special ed team.
What have they been working on? What’s been working? Is there anything they suggest you continue throughout the summer? How?
Most teachers and speech therapists are more than willing to give you a few ideas! Choose 1 or 2 ideas you want to focus on and choose an activity to incorporate that into.
For instance, if your child is learning how to follow directions choose 1-2 directions at home that you want him to follow.
“Put the diaper in the garbage” after diaper changes. “Get your shoes” when it’s time to go outside. “Give me your cup” when she wants a drink.
#5: Movement / Outside Time
This one is tricky! We all know movement and being outside is great for our health! We all feel better after getting a little sun and fresh air.
But when you have a child that screams whenever it’s time to come inside or runs away from you at the playground, it’s not as simple as “just go to the park.”
If you have a fenced in yard — great!!
If not, you’ll need to be a little more creative, but there are movement activities that you can do inside.
- Obstacle course (crawling under chairs, going up stairs, balancing while walking over pillows, jumping on old pillows or mattress)
- Music time (turn on their favorite YouTube video or music on your phone and just let them move and jump and dance)
- Make your own ball pit (kiddie pool and balls)
- Mini trampoline or old mattress
Choose 2-3 times during the day when you want to add in movement / outside time. Providing movement will help decrease problem behaviors and improve focus and attention! Think how we feel after sitting for several hours — even a 5 minute walk outside does wonders for us as adults!
#6: Choose Off-Season Activities or Off-Times
Being around a lot of people and in new situations is really hard for a lot of our kids — too many distractions, very noisy, won’t stay with you, lots of people.
Choosing activities that are off-season or going when there is likely to be fewer people can help.
If you want to go to the pool, call ahead and see if there are quieter / less busy days or times of day.
Do the same for the library, zoo, movies, etc. Sometimes larger parks or movie theaters or zoos will have certain accommodations for families that have a child with special needs. Do a little research ahead of time.
And always make sure to have their favorite snacks, drink, and anything else that helps calm them.
#7: Rotate The Toys
It might seem like having a lot of toys and activities available to your child will keep them occupied for longer, however, this generally is not the case for our youngest kids.
This is even more true for our youngest kids with autism, language delays, and other developmental delays.
Too many toys and activities is very distracting. Often times our kids aren’t actually playing with the toys yet either. It’s more of a “dump and go” situation.
REALLY thin out your child’s toys and activities.
BY A LOT!
Choose 5-7 toys in the play room / play area that your child enjoys and knows how to use.
Keep those same toys out (with the others boxed up and out of sight) for 1-2 weeks. Keep one or two favorites and replace the others with a few “new” toys they haven’t seen in a week.
This helps a ton with attention, play skills, and problem solving.
#8: Quiet Time
If your child is still napping, awesome!! Keep that consistent during the summer months and enjoy it!!
Just remember to keep those nap times consistent and not too close to bed time.
If your child isn’t napping, that can be rough and makes for some long days.
However, I suggest still having a “quiet time.” There doesn’t need to be the expectation of sleep, but many of our young kids with autism and other developmental delays do not know how to calm their bodies. They haven’t learned that there are times to be up and active and other times we need to calm our bodies and be quiet.
We have to teach this skill like anything else. You can do this by choosing 1-2 times when you take your child into their room, turn off lights and close curtains, and lay down with them. This can last 2-5 minutes if that’s your starting point.
You can play music quietly, look at books, or just lay down.
Model the behavior you want them to do, including using a quiet voice. Initially your child might get upset or fight you on this, but they’ll get the hang of it. Again, you model the behavior you want them to do and gradually increase the amount of time you stay in “quiet time.”
Keep the time of day the same (example: after lunch) and in the same location (example: bedroom). Choose a quieter room and decrease distractions (toys, TV, siblings, etc).
After teaching “quiet time” and a lot of practice, your child will be able to stay in their room and do quiet time activities on their own!!!
How amazing would that be?!?!?!
#9: Space Out Busy Days
As parents we know that a week-long vacation with kids is not relaxing!
When we’ve had relatives or holiday activities going on for several days in a row, it’s exhausting.
Summer time has a ton of fun activities and you might want to spend time with family, friends, and neighbors.
However, try to space out your busy days if possible. Keep your child on their regular routine and sleep schedule as best you can.
Too many days of missed naps and being out all day and lot of new people, noises, and places can lead to lots of meltdowns and exhausted kids. This is especially hard when our kids can’t tell us they are tired or hungry or need a break!
#10: Be Prepared But Keep It Simple
Decide what you want your daily schedule to look like.
Choose when your quiet time will be.
Get up and go to bed at the same time as much as possible and do an outing on “school days.”
Have those favorite snacks and drinks handy when you’re out. (The iPAD too! No judgment!)
Keep it simple though.
I’m not a Pinterst mom. I don’t make sensory bins for my kids. We aren’t doing a new fun summer art activity everyday. We aren’t making handmade ice cream.
AND MY KIDS ARE JUST FINE AND STILL HAVE A FUN SUMMER!!
You don’t have to do all the things on Pinterest!
If that’s your thing, I love it! Can I send my kids to your house??
If it’s not your thing or you’re exhausted when you get home (anyone else??), don’t worry!!
A general routine, quiet time, play time, maybe a trip to the pool or park, or running in the sprinklers is great! (I feel really good about myself when we are able to do ONE summer activity a week.)
Create a Summer Schedule for Success
Summer break can be very difficult for a lot of families!
The best way to help yourself and your child is to have a routine to provide predictability.
Predictability decreases problem behaviors and anxiety, increases independence, and helps us be prepared.
Decide what you want your morning, afternoon, and evening to look like. (What is doable?)
Stick to it for a week and then make any adjustments you need.
By using these strategies, you’ll be creating a summer schedule that works well for your and your child with autism!
Which strategy worked for you? Is there one you want to try first? I’d love to hear about it!