Children with autism spectrum should keep a summer routine
Summer vacation for many children means a break from school — and its strict schedules. But for children with autism, a change in daily routine can be a source of great stress.
Julie Mower, executive director at the Phoenix Center, a not-for-profit school in Nutley serving the educational, therapeutic and behavioral needs of students ages 5 to 21 with autism, said keeping some type of routine is important. Many children with autism crave a schedule that is the same every day. She offered parents or caregivers some tips for a less stressful summer:
• Create an anticipatory schedule, basically a laundry list of events of a particular day.
• If a family is taking a trip or vacation, talk about that vacation with the child in advance. Look on the destination's website with the child so he or she can see what the new environment is going to look like.
• Summer camps are a great way to engage an autistic child. Mower said it's important to visit the camp and visit the counselors ahead of time so the child gets used to the new environment.
• A timer or an alarm is also crucial. Some children respond better to auditory cues than visual ones. So for example, Mower said if a family is getting to leave an event in 10 minutes, have the child set the alarm so he or she understands it's time to go when the alarm goes off.
• Swimming can be a fantastic fun summer activity for a child with special needs. Mower said it's important to pick a pool that can accommodate a child's needs. She said an indoor pool can amplify sound and trigger auditory sensitivities that outdoor pools may not. An outdoor pool may not have the echo effect, but factors like temperature and chlorine may affect a child's experience in other ways.
• Headed to the beach? Mower said sand can provide a totally different sensory experience for children who are not used to having bare feet. Have them use water shoes so their feet are not directly exposed to the sand. She suggested towels for them to sit on and for those with tactile defensiveness, bring digging tools for them.
Mower said the bottom line is not to get stuck in maintaining the same routine — but if a family is going on a trip, create a new routine. Embed some normal routines such as consistent dinners and bedtime. Have activities planned and take some breaks — with those tips, families with autistic children will be able to better enjoy the summer months together.
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