A child with special needs typically wants structure and consistency in their life. When something interrupts their routine it can have a tremendous impact on daily functioning. This is why every year I hear the same thing from parents, summertime again, now what do I do?
So here are my top ten ways to enjoy summer with your special needs child:
10. Don’t forget about education
All children regress in abilities during the summer months but special needs children even more so. This is why so much emphasis is placed on review the first few weeks back in school. Put aside time to work with your child and keep their skills sharp. There are many special needs children that will qualify for extended school year because they regress so much during the summer and it takes a long time for them to recoup the information once school starts again. Extended school year is normally only four to five weeks in length so parents should be prepared to work with their children during the off time.
9. Find an appropriate summer program for your child
While there are many summer camp programs that are either specifically designed for special needs children or are willing to take them it doesn’t mean this is the right environment for your child. Think about the time and energy spent at an IEP meeting regarding placement. Just as much time and care should be put in the decision regarding placement for summer. Visit the camp and observe the environment. Make an informed decision and be honest about your child’s strengths and weaknesses with the organizer of the camp. Don’t be afraid to visit as many potential summer placements as needed.
8. Always consider the child to adult ratio
No matter what activity you have planned make sure there is proper adult supervision. If your child normally has a shadow or behaviorist with them all day at school don’t set them up to fail by planning an activity or event where there are too many other children for the adults to properly supervise your child.
7. Be realistic and don’t over stimulate
Try to plan activities that give your child as much breaks as needed. Find a place they can go rest and relax. This might include going home and breaking the activity into pieces or just finding a quiet spot every hour to decompress. Call ahead, many attractions will provide you a quiet place to go if you ask nicely upfront.
6. Keep structure
This includes bed time, meal time, nap time, fun time, education time and any other daily activity that your child is used to doing. This might mean structuring activities and events around these daily events. When you change events in your child’s life you create chaos and no one will end up having any fun.
5. Always prepare
Bring with you snacks, drinks, stuffed animals, video games, music or anything else that soothes your child. My wife’s purse always has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and my son’s Nintendo DS at the ready. When going to new environments research places your child might like to go or eat. I always know where we are going to lunch or dinner before we leave the house and most of the time I have called ahead to see if they have foods my son will eat.
Many major attractions have support services for children with special needs. Disney for instance has the Guest Assistance Card (GAC) or the Special Assistance Pass (SAP) depending on what park you are visiting. These passes are not front of the line passes but provide an alternate entrance waiting area for people who can’t wait in line, allows better seating at shows, for people with severe visual impairments, allows the use of strollers when they would not otherwise be allowed in the line and many other benefits depending on the needs of the child.
4. You can still go on vacation
Believe it or not you can still go on a family vacation. Hotels for more than a couple of nights do not work for my family. We have learned we need a kitchen and have bought a timeshare that we have traded to different locations all over the country. If timeshares are not for you try renting a condo or apartment. There are many websites dedicated to renting out these types of accommodations.
When getting on a plane or in the car for a long period of time bring lots of entertainment. This is the age of electronics so the possibilities are endless, portable DVD players, laptops, Ipods or handheld video games to name a few. Sometimes, something as simple as a book or crayons and paper might be enough depending on the child. Also, don’t forget food, lots and lots of food. You can still bring food on a plane so bring all of your child’s favorites with you.
3. Don’t stress
If you are stressed your child will pick up on it and no one will have a good time. Sometimes you need to know when to get up and leave. All the planning and structure in the world can’t stop all of the unforeseen problems that might arise. Just make sure you have an escape route which might mean no carpooling with other parents. Your friends will need to understand sometimes the best course of action is to go home. This is not the end of the world don’t worry about it.
2. Keep your child informed of any plans
Make sure they know in advance when and where you will be going. Let them help plan the itinerary, if possible. Involve them in the research, discuss the destination and most importantly don’t surprise them. Every time we go to a new vacation destination my son is adamantly against it. He wants to go back to one of the places he has already been to. We have to get him excited about the new place. Show him what they have there, why he is going to like it and prepare him for the adventure. This was not easy when he was younger but after years of doing this he has become a pretty good traveler.
1. Have Fun
Summer is fun, barbeques are fired up, the sun is out and water activities are everywhere. Get outside, swim with your child, play with your child, interact with your child and have fun. All kids grow up really fast and I don’t care what type of child you have but the joys of a summer afternoon with your family can not be beat!!