How to Prepare Your Child With Autism For Summer Break

Father teaching daughter how to brush teeth

Many children eagerly anticipate school vacations and the opportunity to sleep in, spend time with friends and play all day. Children with autism view the experience differently, though. The disruption to their schedule can feel unsafe and overwhelming.

As co-parents, you can use several tips to prepare your child with autism to navigate summer vacation—or any vacations from school or their regular routine—successfully and have fun.

Talk Early About the Schedule Change

Instead of waiting until the day before summer vacation begins, discuss the new schedule often in the weeks leading to the change. Your child needs time to accept the change, ask questions about it and feel comfortable with the new schedule.

Partner With Your Child to Create Structure

Ask your child for input as you plan the summer schedule. He or she may want to spend time learning more about a hobby or interest, join the soccer team, or attend a camp.

Additionally, your child may prefer to do required chores in the afternoon rather than the morning or want to sleep in instead of getting up at the same time each day. With his or her input, you plan a schedule that makes the transition smoother, decreases anxiety and improves your child’s adjustment period.

Imitate the School Schedule

To transition smoothly from school to a new routine, consider following your child’s familiar school schedule. For example, continue to wake up and eat lunch at the same time. Give your child math worksheets after breakfast; swim, play basketball or ride bikes after lunch; or visit the library every Wednesday if that’s when those activities normally occurred during school days.

Outline the Schedule on Paper

Like your child may have a written or visual schedule in school that lists the day’s schedule, provide a written or visual schedule for the summer. It will be flexible based on the day’s activities and can include:

  • Specific times for meals
  • Physical, educational and play activities
  • Bedtimes
  • Or, it can simply list the day’s activities in the expected order that they will occur 

Whether it’s written as a list or includes pictures, this schedule guides your child’s day and may reduce anxiety and frustration. 

Respect Your Child’s Needs

It’s important to introduce and prepare your child for new activities, but discuss the experience first, ensure he or she knows what to expect, and plan for sensory challenges. For example, if your child dislikes getting dirty, reconsider your trip to the beach, and prepare your child’s favourite food for family cookouts. 

Get on the Same Page With Your Ex

Because you want your child to enjoy his or her time with the other parent, communicate often about your child’s schedule and preferences. Ideally, both of you will follow the established schedule as much as possible and plan activities your child enjoys. By working together, both parents and your child enjoy special time together this summer.

Hold a Dress Rehearsal for Vacations

Before vacation or visits to the other parent’s house, hold a dress rehearsal. Set up a pretend airport and practice security checks and the flight, or review videos of the amusement park, ballpark or aquarium before your adventure. This dress rehearsal better prepares your child for the trip, reduces anxiety, worry and fear, and boosts his or her confidence.

Anticipate Disruptions

No matter how hard you try, your child's schedule may get disrupted. Maybe a traffic jam prevents you from arriving at the museum on time or a friend gets sick before a playdate. Talk with your child as soon as possible about the change and be prepared with an alternative. For example, you can say, “I’m sorry, buddy, that we can’t make it to the museum today. Let’s take a virtual tour instead.” Because you know your child best, use the language and strategies that work for him or her when schedule changes occur.

School vacations give your child with autism the opportunity to explore interests and enjoy activities outside the classroom. The schedule change often feels scary and overwhelming, though. Follow these tips as you minimize disruptions and help your child feel safe and have fun all summer.

Author's Bio:

Lisa Orlando is Senior Vice President, Marketing and Strategy of the Invo Family of Companies, which includes Invo-Progressus — a provider of employment and professional development for therapists. The company connects qualified candidates with job opportunities across the United States.