As the end of winter inches closer, just about everyone starts counting down the days until spring break, kids and parents alike. And while there’s excitement about the vacation from school, there are also some very valid reasons why parents of kids on the autism spectrum or with various sensory issues may also have some feelings of trepidation going into the break. From disruptions in the daily routine to losses in academic momentum, those days at home can be tough on both parents and kids.
As a teacher and administrator in special education for the past 15 years, I’ve gained some insight into what makes for a successful break. When parents take the following three steps, they can help their children continue to make progress during their time off from school, while also preventing and/or better managing meltdowns due to schedule changes and the excitement of the break.
1. Try to stick to your school routine as much as possible
Routine is key in helping your ASD child manage his or her emotions and behavior. Completely upending it during breaks—allowing them to stay up late or sleep in, for example, is just asking for problems.
Instead, keep your child’s schedule as close to the school schedule as you can. Have him/her wake up and go to sleep at the same times, and eat breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner at the same times as well. This may not always be possible, but sticking to the familiar routine as closely as you can provides a baseline of reassurance to ground a child when travelling, vacationing in an unfamiliar place, or even just spending more unstructured time at home than usual.
Helpful Tip: For older children, spring break is the perfect time for parents to offer a few challenges such as “scheduled meltdowns,” as I like to call them. It’s important for your growing child to learn to deal with the unexpected, and a long school break allows you some extra time to help your child through such situations. For example, you could announce plans, then change them last-minute, and take the time to talk your child through the change to help them manage his/her reaction. Of course, each individual child is different. His/her unique needs should be taken into consideration when deciding how or whether to try this approach.
2. Keep language skills sharp with seasonal reading activities
If you’re travelling or otherwise staying busy with fun activities during spring break, it can be difficult to find time to read with your child, too. But doing so will help to prevent some of the academic backsliding that can occur when there is a long break from lessons.
Even if there isn’t time to sit and read a chapter each night, you can still take advantage of the season to continue to hone those language skills. Reading about gardening, either in simple books for younger children or even online with older children and then putting into practice what you learn may be a great way to gain kids’ interest. You can easily find fun seasonal workbooks in stores, too, with word puzzles and short sentences or paragraphs to read. Trying out some fresh springtime recipes together is another great way to practice not only reading skills, but also following directions, and even math—with delicious results!
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3. Stay on top of math with fun vacation challenges
Spring break may not seem like the time to work on math, but there are plenty of fun ways to incorporate math skills into your vacation. Gardening is one, as mentioned above – counting seeds, measuring plants as they grow, and keeping track of the days and weeks it takes for flowers to blossom or veggies to grow are concrete ways to bring math into each day. Another is simply counting down to a trip, special event, or even just a family picnic in the backyard.
An especially exciting way to give children real-world math experience is to give them a budget appropriate for their age, and then let them shop for vacation souvenirs or any seasonal items they can afford. But don’t stop there—ask the child to pay for it himself/herself and then determine whether the right amount of change was given, too. Tackling such a grown-up challenge is a great confidence booster. Odds are, your child won’t mind the math aspect of it at all.
So, although spring break can be challenging for many ASD children, it also presents you with opportunities to continue to help them grow. In my experience, sticking to your family’s routine and taking advantage of fun seasonal activities to continue working on language and math skills can prevent or minimize many of the frustrations that can occur. Try it out this spring break, and see how it works for your child!
This article was featured in Issue 86 – Working Toward a Healthy Life with ASD