Transitional times of the year mean shifting schedules, which can be particularly challenging for children with autism and their families. Whether you’re just beginning to learn about cognitive special needs, or have many years of experience, gaining insight into what has helped other families cope can be valuable. Holly Robinson Peete, actress and autism advocate whose son RJ was diagnosed with autism at a young age, is sharing her own tips and strategies for a smooth summer break.
Discuss plans ahead of time
Summer days are often filled with new experiences, which can sometimes be overwhelming for your child. Share a schedule in advance to help your child understand what the day will look like. Of course, plans — and weather — may change, so it’s important to provide a backup plan, too. For example, you may want to say, “We’re going to the pool today at noon, but if it rains, we’ll go to the movies instead.”
Maintain a schedule
Routines are important for all children, but especially for those living with autism. In summer, it can feel tempting to be more flexible with daily routines but maintaining the basic structure of your child’s typical school day helps. Start the day by encouraging the same wake-up time each day and following a regular morning routine.
Do activities together
A family needs to work together to thrive. Opt for activities that are exciting for your child but benefit everyone. “A simple picnic on the beach is a good day for the Peetes! We’ve been doing this since RJ was a little boy,” says Peete. “The sounds of the ocean and watching the waves relax him and the whole family.”
Focus on the positive
Children with autism respond well to praise. The key is to be specific about what exactly was great about his or her behaviour and to provide a little reward, such as an ice cream cone or extra trip to the pool.
“Many parents take eye contact for granted, but it’s something that can be difficult for children with autism to do. It’s very hard to describe what it’s like when your child is unable to look at you. You don’t make the connection you need to make, which can be painful and frustrating for everyone,” says Peete. “Whenever RJ would make extended eye contact, we would make sure he got his favourite pizza or the chance to jump longer on his trampoline. These are small wins, but huge for an autism family.”
Don’t let summer vacation be overwhelming. Leverage new resources and learn more about others’ experiences to help your family discover winning routines for a great summer.