Long days and relaxed schedules are some of the best things to love about summer. But when school’s not in session, you may wonder how to help your child with autism continue moving forward.
With support, summer can be a great time for your child to progress and even build new skills, says Rachel Enright, Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Vice President of Clinical Development & Strategy at Gateway Pediatric Therapy.
“Parents may think about how they can support and be present for their child during this change,” Enright says. “There may be changes in child care or routines as you figure out how to structure your work schedule, extracurricular activities and all the fun things you are hoping to squeeze into those few precious months.”
Set some goals
While seeking a new normal for summer, let your goals guide you. “What’s important to you? Your goals or priorities from the school year may look different from those you might have for the summer,” Enright says. “In school, your child may learn skills that support academic goals. During summer, you may have the opportunity to highlight new activities and social goals.”
Figure out what a great summer looks like for your child and family and then be proactive and practical about how to achieve it, she suggests. “Three months seems like a long time, but it can slip by quickly. Sit down as a family and talk about what you want to focus on,” Enright suggests.
Your goals may include a family vacation. If so, plan to have clear and open communication with your child so they know what to expect. You may want to incorporate visuals and talk about schedules of what’s to come ahead of time. “Take the time to have proactive conversations about traveling in the car or on an airplane. Talk about going through security, sitting on an airplane, what you might see and hear and feel,” she says. “Involve your child in the process to get ready for the trip, packing their carry-on, deciding what outfits to bring, etc. This can introduce the ‘new and unknown’ in a low-stress way and help support a successful trip for everyone.”
Use your resources
As you consider your child’s summer progress, reach out to your support team for help. “Schedule a meeting with your child’s clinician and express your goals for the summer,” says Enright. “Based on that clinician’s experience with your child, they should be a sounding board for support and feedback regarding how to achieve your family’s goal.”
If you’re working toward trips to the grocery store, for example, a BCBA can help break this down into smaller goals that feel achievable. “Maybe the first trip is to the corner market to buy one thing that is something fun, then gradually build up from there. The BCBA can help support progression toward that goal,” she says. Your BCBA can also suggest summer camps and activities that might be a good fit for your child.
Once you have established some goals, write them on your family calendar or on a sticky note, just as a reminder. But remain flexible, Enright says. “If you feel like the goal is off-target, have an open and honest conversation about why. Maybe the goal is beyond what you can achieve in the amount of time or something happened that changed your priority,” she says.
You can always decide if you still want to meet this goal. “To say no or readjust is OK,” she adds. “Sometimes the goal could just be to enjoy the summer, spending time together and being present. Summer can allow us to reshape our framework of expectations so that we can find the good that comes from each day. There’s often pressure to do something, but being together, focusing on being in the moment, those interactions are just as important.”
Learn more about Gateway Pediatric Therapy. Visit gatewaypediatrictherapy.com.