5 Ways to Help Your Special Needs Child Transition to Summer
Welcome back to Social Skills Corner. This month we will give you five excellent ways to help your child transition from school to summer break. We will begin with an example which many parents can relate to:
Susan was not looking forward to June because she knew she would need to find something for her eight-year-old son, Dylan, to do during his summer break from school. He did not qualify for Extended School Year services due to his level of functioning. Dylan is routine oriented and becomes very anxious and upset when his schedule does not stay the same. Last summer Susan thought she had all of her bases covered by telling him, in advance, what he was going to do. She also enrolled him in a camp that specializes in serving children with special needs. Despite her planning, Dylan had a difficult time transitioning and had tantrums when she tried to get him in the car when leaving for camp during the first two weeks.
As you begin helping your child prepare for summer break, here are some ideas to consider:
- Whether you plan on having your child go to a summer camp, or stay home with you, start talking to him about school ending as early as you think your child can handle the information. You may want to use a calendar and put a sticker on the day school ends and, if you plan on sending him to camp, when camp starts. You may also want to cross off each day at the end of the day.
- If you plan on having your child stay home during the summer break, structure his day. You may want to use a white board to write down his schedule or pictures to show him what he will be doing. He most likely followed a schedule in school, so following a schedule at home should ease him into his new routine. You may want to stay on a schedule similar to school in terms of what time he gets up, what time he eats breakfast and lunch, and what time he goes to bed.
- If you plan on sending him to a summer camp, start talking to him about camp as soon as you think he would be ready to hear about this “new place.” If possible, show him pictures of the camp. Ideally you would want to let him know what he is going to do during the day so he knows what to expect. If this information is not available, you might want to let him know about activities you know he’ll be doing. If you are able to visit the camp prior to the beginning of his camp session, he will be better able to visualize what his time there will involve.
- If your child has difficulty managing his emotions when he experiences change, you might want to show him some calming, self-regulating techniques he can use so that he won’t become overwhelmed. These might include taking deep breaths when he feels anxious, asking for help by using a specific phrase or picture, using a five-point emotion management scale, or smelling relaxing scents such as lavender. If you know his teacher worked with him to manage his emotions, ask her to send you the materials she used so you can implement them at home or at camp.
- Saying good-bye to his teacher and friends can sometimes be difficult and make the transition into summer more anxiety provoking. If possible, have his teacher write a story about the end of the school year, including a picture of the teacher. The story’s focus can be on his teacher telling him what he’ll be doing in the summer and how much fun he’ll have. It can also let him know that she will see him again in a few months (if, indeed, she will) or something about his new classroom and teacher.
By using some or all of these techniques, your child will adjust more easily to the change in routine caused by summer break. You and your child will also learn some ways to help adjust to other changes in routine such as shorter school breaks or changes in after school activities.
Jamie E. Carter and Ahna I. O’Shaughnessy are the authors of PREP for Social Success: A Guide for Parents of Children with Autism which is an easy to understand four step program to help your child with social skills and emotion management. It is available exclusively through Amazon Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00WQANRI4. Dr. Carter is a clinical psychologist with many years of experience in performing assessments for children and adults and providing psychotherapy and consultations. Ms. O’Shaughnessy is a psychology associate providing behavioral services to various agencies and schools that serve adults and children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in the Greater D.C. and Baltimore areas. She also teaches classes to staff and parents in the areas of behavior theory and social skills techniques. You can follow them on Twitter @Prep4SocSuccess and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PREPforSocialSuccess. They can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was featured in Issue 48 – Connecting and Communicating with Autism