The Top Five Tips to Planning a Fun and Safe Summer for Kids with Autism
Summer has arrived, and with the satisfaction of finishing another school year comes the task of managing the season's many unplanned, unanticipated, and unexpected elements. Here are some helpful tips for planning your family’s summer activities that we hope will help create more fun and reduce the stress: Maintain Some Structure. ... Theme Park Programs. ... Prepare in Advance. ... Travel Safety. ... It Takes a Village. ... Get Support From Your Team.
Maintain Some Structure
One of the most important things to keep in mind as you plan your summer activities is to maintain some structure. While we strongly urge you to resist the temptation to over-scheduling that can be common with school-aged children, a little structure will help your family to enjoy the season more fully by keeping some control over the chaos. This can be as simple as giving your family members their own “bucket list” of the things they would like to do during the season, scheduling a few recurring activities (such as attending the park or the pool on a weekly basis), or setting up a calendar of events that you can reference when making family outings. What matters most is that you chat with your family members about what they would like to see happen this summer, and then work together to make it happen.
Theme Park Programs
Many theme parks offer special programs and “sensory-friendly” days during the summer that are designed with the needs of children with autism in mind. These can be a great way to enjoy the attractions while minimizing the sensory challenges, waiting in lines, and crowds that come with visiting a theme park. One of the most popular places to enjoy a “sensory-friendly” day is Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Disney’s program is called “Kids’ Autism Awareness Day” and it’s typically held in February. Tickets are discounted, and special accommodations are made for guests. Other theme parks that offer similar programs are SeaWorld and Universal Studios in Orlando, Busch Gardens in Virginia, and Six Flags in many states. Theme park websites will typically list the dates, times, and other details of the programs.
Prepare in Advance - and be flexible!
While it’s important to maintain some structure during your summer, it’s also important to be flexible. There will be days when plans will have to change in light of weather, illness, or other challenges that come with life with kids. There are a few ways you can help prepare for the unexpected while staying flexible. First, keep a calendar of both scheduled and unscheduled activities to help keep track of where you and your family members are during the season. Second, try to make plans in advance as much as possible, but keep some flexibility in your schedule. This way, you can help to avoid unnecessary meltdowns when something changes and you can also help plan around any special needs your family members may have. Third, make use of online calendars such as Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook or even a simple wall calendar. These tools can help to keep everyone informed of upcoming events, and they offer the added benefit of being able to mark events as “canceled” when something changes.
When traveling, it’s important to remember that many of the same challenges that can present challenges during the rest of the year can come into play during summer travel. For example, many families travel by car on regularly scheduled visits to grandparents or other destinations. And while it can be wonderful to spend time together as a family, it’s also important to remember that things like distance, environmental factors (such as noise, light, and temperature), and the volume and content of the conversation can create challenges that may make the trip less enjoyable for family members with autism. There are also some special considerations that may need to be taken when traveling. First, make sure you have up-to-date vehicle inspection and maintenance records. You don’t want to get stranded or break down in the middle of nowhere. Second, consider how the distance of your trip may impact your family members with autism. While it may seem like a short drive for you, for example, it’s important to remember that the trip can feel very different for your kids. Third, take advantage of apps and other technology. While every trip doesn’t need technology, it can be a wonderful tool to help keep kids engaged, informed, and distracted. You may also want to consider bringing some sort of sensory toy on the trip to help your kids cope with the challenges.
It Takes a Village - find support for your kids AND you!
One of the most important things to remember when planning your summer activities is that these aren’t “one-off” events. They’re the beginning of a long, hot (and hopefully, fun) season. And while it’s important to get started early with planning, it’s also important to remember that things don’t happen overnight. There are lots of things that you can do to help prepare for a successful summer. You can help your kids to get organized, and you can help your family to learn how to manage the challenges that may come up during the season. These are things that you can do in advance that will help you to navigate the summer ahead more successfully.
Planning can help you to navigate the challenges that come with summer, but it’s important to remember that the most important part of the season is what happens when you’re out and about. And even when things get challenging, it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture: This is your child’s summer! What are they excited to do? What do they want to experience? What do they want to accomplish? These are the questions you can help your child to answer by working with them to create a summer that’s fun and safe.