Summer Thriving with Special Needs

Contributed by Hetal Patel, M.A., CCC-SLP,

Summer months are fast approaching and kids on the spectrum will be ending the school year and taking a break from the classroom and school therapies. The break from school gives caregivers an opportunity to spend more time with their child and address goals that were targeted during the school year. Working on personal and treatment goals over the summer months, allows for carryover across different contexts, situations and with different conversational partners.

This is the time of year that parents may receive summer packets for extended learning from schools, hopefully ahead of the end of school year rush, to have input on summer plans. Summer is a perfect time to engage with a child to increase his/her play, sensory and language skills in a natural environment. Exploring activities around the community and home not only increase social skills, but build an even stronger bond and relationship with a child.

There seem to be many resources for the early years for parents to help facilitate play and development with young children- guidance from songs, fingerplays, and public television. As children grow, sometimes there are difficulties joining in their interests or play. Randy Lewis, former VP of Walgreen’s Corporation speaking of his adult son says “I’ve never even played a simple game with my son, not even a game of catch.” As members of the autism community we have to remind ourselves, that sometimes the very personal struggle of learning how to play with one’s own child, can be frustrating. Any ideas that we can share for natural play, cognitive and language stimulation may be helpful. Also, these may help manage the risk of regression or excessive device time over the summer months that may become a problem when transitioning back to school in Fall.

Here are some ideas for summer fun, that allow for many different learning opportunities:

Go to the park or play in your own backyard- Think of all the imaginative play that could happen here. You could pretend to go on a bear hunt, or play a game of I-spy. This is the perfect place to let some energy out too. You could act out different actions or pretend to be an animal. Just going for a walk provides for different auditory, visual, and sensory experiences. You could plant flowers and watch them grow and bloom, have your child water them each week. This is a great way to build ownership and responsibility.

Cook together- Make a simple summer treat together, such as popsicles, lemonade or fruit kabobs. Following directions and vocabulary concepts can be targeted. Cooking and eating together is a social experience. Think of how many holidays are centered around making a meal and then coming together to eat it. This could be the perfect opportunity for the picky/sensory eater to explore and try new foods.

Have a dance party- Turn up the music and dance the night away. This could be the start of a new family tradition. This is the perfect opportunity to dance together or to have the child imitate your moves. Have the child sing along as well, to build language skills. Look around the community for kid friendly concerts.

Read together- Whether at the library or at your house, books foster vocabulary development and attention skills. They allow children to hear and learn about different experiences. This might be an opportunity to introduce a book about something that is difficult for the child. Look into your local library for different summer reading programs. This could be a great opportunity for social interaction with peers.

A Day In- Spend a day at home exploring your own house. Go into the kitchen and smell different spices and fruits for a sensory experience. Give the child a weekly chore. Have them help with laundry. This is a perfect task to target sorting, following directions, math skills (measuring and pouring the detergent), and sequencing the various steps together. Call family members and friends and say hello and see what they are doing for the day.

Encourage a conversation about activities before they happen, have the child help you plan if possible. After the activity is complete, discuss what the experience was like. As we all know, children with ASD thrive on routine and structure, and providing this structure throughout the summer will hopefully help everyone involved transition to a fun filled Summer.