The summer is already here. Having a child with special needs at home all summer is extremely stressful for parents. As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, this kind of stressful environment often leads to behavioral issues.
Summer should be a time of joy, sharing and spending time with family and friends. However, for those with family members who have special needs, the holidays can present unique challenges because it can often be overwhelming to children. The comfort and predictability of the school time with its routines and schedules is gone and now there is a lot of free time.
As discussed in previous blogs, being sensitive to your child’s needs and keeping familiar routines in place are the best ways to avoid summer havoc. Let’s review some recommendations to help keep parents sane during the summer.
Prepare your child for the unexpected event: Explain to your child what is going to happen when there are changes in routines ahead of time. Be specific about every detail that might occur in any given situation, such as meal times, preferred and non-preferred activities, time to come back home, etc. New or unexpected situations can be very frightening for a child with autism and being prepared can help him cope.
Prepare the social event for your child: Avoid long trips whenever possible. Airports, planes and long car rides could be very stressful.
Stick to your normal routine as much as possible. Keep sleep and meal/snack times as close to their usual time as possible.
Keep your child busy: Don’t expect that your child will entertain himself independently. Your role here is crucial. I know that finding activities for kids with special needs can be challenging. However, there are some options available. Consult with your Regional Center or your social services agency. Schools and community centers sometimes offer activities for children with special needs. Try to build a schedule of activities similar to the schedule your child follows during the school year.
Know the triggers and read the precursors of challenging behaviors, such as facial expressions, changes in breathing, body movements, etc. Look for the signs that your child may be unraveling and retreat to your safe place. Preventing a meltdown is always easier than managing a tantrum once it begins.
Finally, relax and enjoy. You are your child’s barometer and if you are stressed out, he will be too.
Daniel Adatto, BCBA