9 Tips for Having a Smooth Summer Vacation with a Child on the Spectrum

As spring transitions into summer, school doors fling open and students stream out, papers and books tossed aside to welcome the childhood version of Elysium: summer vacation. For kids with autism, however, this time of year isn’t as glorious as it is for their neurotypical peers. In fact, it can be quite stressful, as the summer months lack the structure—and therefore the comfort—of school days. But summertime doesn’t have to be something that’s dreaded! Here are nine ways to make it run smoothly—and take advantage of all the good things it has to offer!

Happy pupils leaving the classroom

1. Establish a flexible schedule

Given that I just said summer is stressful because it lacks structure, this one probably doesn’t surprise you, but it’s still important to mention because it can be very helpful for many kids with autism. Create a schedule that matches their normal school schedule as closely as possible: have them wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, have lunch, and participate in various activities at the same time each day. For example: wake up and have breakfast at 8:00, get dressed and brush teeth at 8:30, silently read from 9:00 to 11:00. You get my drift, right?

It can also be helpful to create a visual map of this schedule and tack it on the fridge or somewhere else in plain sight. Depending on your child’s reading abilities, it can include words, pictures, or both.

2. Try some new activities

music teacher with the pupil at  lesson piano

During the school year, life can be crazy. School, homework, therapy sessions…you may find there’s not a whole lot of time for your child to pursue extra-curricular activities. During the summer, however, schedules are much more open. Consider taking advantage of it by signing your child up for a paint class, piano lessons, a summer t-ball team…whatever strikes your little one’s fancy! They don’t have to be a superstar at whatever they choose; the most important thing is they have fun.

3. Get some exercise

Some people with autism lack muscle tone; as a result, they may struggle with motor skills. Without the presence of a P.E. or gym class, this can be made worse. The solution? Get them moving! Whether it’s setting up a trampoline, hiking, taking them to the playground to run around and climb on stuff, or building them up to jog a 5K, physical exercise will keep them healthy and strengthen their muscles.

4. Allow them to pursue their special interests

Happy little boy looking through magnifying glass

It’s common for people with autism to have specific, special interests. If your child is one of them, why not let them devote some extra time to pursuing their fascinations? Whether it involves taking a trip to the library and checking out every single book available on tornadoes or visiting the zoo to see some sloths, giving your child the opportunity to pursue their special interests will not only keep them busy, but it’ll also make them happy.

7. Take them to a summer camp

Though they’re not as ubiquitous as those for typically developing children, summer camps for kids with autism and other special needs do exist, and they can be a fantastic experience. Summer camps are often a childhood staple and offer a great opportunity to make friends, develop self-confidence and self-esteem, hone social skills, and just have fun.

5. Get them out of their comfort zone, socially speaking

Shy boy

A summer camp isn’t right for every child, but that doesn’t mean they have to spend their entire break in solitude. Taking them to public places so they can be around other people and interact with other kids can be helpful for staving off loneliness and nudging them outside of their comfort zone, especially if social situations are a source of anxiety. Try the local park or zoo, schedule play dates, or enroll them in special day camps for kids their age, where they’re only spending an hour or two away from home.

6. Give them “homework”

Oh, the dreaded “h” word. Bring it up to the kids, and they’ll probably protest. But seriously, giving your children some light homework over summer break in reading, math, science, and history can stave off “brain rot” and keep them in learning mode so that starting school in the fall won’t be such a dramatic transition. That applies to neurotypical kids as well as kids with autism!

It can be especially beneficial for children with learning difficulties, as they can catch up and/or stay caught up with their peers.

8. Sign them up for swimming lessons

swimming lesson six

I don’t know about you, but I associate summertime with time spent in the pool. That, paired with the fact that there’s extra time, makes summer vacation the perfect opportunity to sign your child up for swimming lessons. This isn’t just a fun activity, either; it can actually save your child’s life, especially if they’re prone to wandering and drawn to bodies of water. If that’s the case, look for swimming lessons designed for kids with special needs and ask if your child will learn to swim with his clothes on.

9. Go on a fun family vacation

With loose schedules and the kids out of school, summer is the perfect time to take a family vacation. How do you prepare for something like that? Well, that’s a whole different subject! Check out this article to learn how to plan and execute a relaxing, fun vacation for the whole family.

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