Tips to make Spring and Summer activities more fun for children on the autism spectrum

Published 9:39 am Monday, April 24, 2023

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There’s always a fun activity going on outdoors during the summer months for the whole family to enjoy. Chris Booth, a licensed master social worker and lead clinical care coordinator at Marcus Autism Center, a subsidiary of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, says for families with children on the autism spectrum, finding autism friendly events is a way to add inclusive summer fun to your schedule.

“So many community experiences have autism days and or specific programming for children with developmental differences,” Booth said. “Sometimes these autism specific events have shorter wait times and other aspects to make activities more accessible.”

Booth also suggests:

  • Read kid friendly stories about your outing with your child prior to leading up to the event. You can also watch short YouTube clips with your child and highlight what to expect at the fall outing (e.g., loud noises, fun animals, treats).
  • If your child wanders, use child wrist links or other safety devices to keep your child close. Also use name tags or name tattoos for children who may not be able to state their name if they get lost.

When it comes to water activities Bianca Brooks, PhD, ABPP, a licensed clinical psychologist and part of the assessment and diagnostics team at Marcus, reminds parents to always have a plan.

“If you are going to the beach, lake or a pool, it is important to think of ways to create barriers to water dangers. If you’re staying at a new place, perform a safety check when you arrive,” Brooks said.

Dr. Brooks also suggests:

  • Make sure your child is always wearing a life jacket or some sort of flotation device. Also make sure they are never left unattended near water.
  • Enroll your child in swimming lessons. There are several swim coaches that cater to children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
  • If you are visiting someone’s home with a pool, or a vacation home with a pool there are portable alarms that children can wear that alert you when your child is in water.

For most families, traveling as a family for a vacation can come with a variety of stressful situations. Booth says this experience can be stressful for some children on the spectrum. She says preparing your child for the trip is key.

“Showing them visuals of what to expect, talking to their therapist for recommendations and bringing along comfort items to help calm your child are all helpful options,” Booth said.

She also suggests:

  • Check door locks and remind all family members the importance locking and closing doors behind them at hotels.
  • Contact the airline for resources or events to see if your child can practice going through Security, boarding the plane, or navigating the airport
  • If your child has sensitivities to certain sounds, try to bring headphones or earplugs to minimize some of the many sounds that accompany air travel.
  • Allow ample time to navigate the airport and allow for detours or breaks.
  • Prepare for emergencies by having a “emergency bag” or purse that keeps some small toys to keep your child occupied, back batteries/chargers, extra clothes or pullups if needed, earplugs/headphones, back wrist links, snacks, bubbles, etc.
  • Bring communication devices (if applicable) or simple pictures to help communicate what is coming up next for your child. Also download your child’s favorite preferred movies or shows, or small comfort toys in your carryon.
  • Remember that summery travel is often busy and have compassion for your entire family as there may be more crowds, more noise, and more waiting than expected.
  • Staycations are still vacations- there are lots of ways to enjoy local programming if you decide to not travel during breaks.
  • Call ahead and get a sense of hotel specific details. You can also alert the front desk if you are concerned about potential elevations in noise.

When looking for a summer camp to enroll your child in, Dr. Brooks says to lean into your child’s interests

“If your child loves animals look for summer camps at the local zoo or natural history museum,” Dr. Brooks said.

She also suggests:

  • Check to see if your local library has small group programming and information regarding county programs.
  • See if your child qualifies for an extended school year through their county to minimize time away from school.
  • Use the summer as a time to increase their outside of school therapy time (e.g., increasing applied behavior analysis therapy). Also, several therapy providers (e.g., speech therapists, occupational therapists) offer camp like programming.
  • Start looking into camps for children on the spectrum now; as most camps are currently completing their admission procedures.