Summer and autism: how can they work together?

Someone can say that finally school is finished. No more early breakfast, no more breakfast club, no more rush in the morning, no more stuck in the traffic.

Parents don’t mind the lighter load that comes with no homework or after-school activities. But that same relaxed schedule can be a challenge for children with autism and their parents.

Autism and routine

One of the primary diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is that the individual shows restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

That’s why lots of the children in the spectrum found very difficult and challenging when something change in their daily life: a toy in a different place, a towel in the bathroom with a different color, a type of food which has a different taste and so on.

Any deviation from any of these particulars, even one almost undetectable to a neurotypical individual, can result in enormous anxiety and tantrums from an ASD patient. Adherence to routine becomes obsessively important and any sort of change is a major cause for alarm.

Those kids often rely on the structured environment that the school year provides. They know exactly what is going to happen, and when, for the most part. They can often have a support who helps them to understand what’s going on the same day or what will happen the day after, in school or outside school.

So, how can a family deal with the summer break?

I will try to give you some suggestions to cope better when things are more fluid or don’t go as expected. 

  • If you have a plan A, keep in mind that you need to have a plan B, too. When is possible, talk with your child about it, give him time to understand what does it mean that something can’t be done in that moment or in that day/time. Give him examples, these will help him: if you’re planning to go to the pool or the beach, tell him that if a storm comes up or the pool is closed, you might do something else.

  • He needs to feel himself part of the plan. Let him choose what he prefers to do, give him options based on what he likes and work around those.
  • Use a calendar to label summer days, weekends, vacations and holidays. Then create a “typical day” schedule that follows the school schedule as much as possible in terms of lunch time and breaks. It can be very specific if you like, or it can be more vague. That’s totally up to you and your child. Make it very visual so he can refer to it to get an idea of what is coming up.
  • You know what causes your child to feel overloaded. For some kids, it’s a messy house. For others, it’s certain kinds of noise. And for still others it can be an unexpected deviation from plans. Maintaining a routine and upholding normal house rules, even in the summer, can help prevent them from reaching their breaking point.

  • Keep things positive, always. With any child, it’s more effective to reward good behavior than to punish bad behavior. 
  • Find summer camps, summer activities around your area, play dates with other families and, last but not least, don’t feel scared to ask for help or to share your thoughts. Never.

Summer is also the perfect period to spend more time with your child, so try to keep in mind this word: fun.

A child need this in their life, who doesn’t?

So enjoy your summer with them, see how much they will learn and how they will grow and be proud of them. Always!