6 Summer Tips for Parents of Children with Disabilities

6 Summer Tips for Parents of Children with Disabilities; Removing the Stumbling Block

Our thoughts are beginning to turn from desks to lounge chairs, from carpools to lazy afternoons by the pool, and from early-morning alarms to long evenings spent making s’mores and catching fireflies.

We might assume that all families look forward to summer vacation, but sometimes it’s anxiety and not joy that accompanies the dismissal bell on that last day of school. Parents of children with a variety of disabilities and learning issues, for example, often notice that their kids tend to thrive on the structure and routine the academic year provides; the prospect of long stretches of unscheduled time can be overwhelming.

When we consider, alongside such anxieties, concerns about the loss of academic skills that children have worked hard to acquire throughout the year — commonly referred to as "summer slide" — these few months might seem particularly unwelcome.
Here are some fun and engaging ways to make summer both more manageable and more enjoyable for children with a variety of disabilities and learning differences:


1. Create a summer calendar

Develop a calendar of your whole summer to plan out activities such as vacations, day trips, camp, play dates, and other engagements that require advance preparation. Seeing the weeks and months laid out can help children with attention deficits and visual processing issues to appreciate the freedom of summer without becoming overwhelmed by it. Also, schedule opportunities to focus on summer reading assignments (if this applies) so children can understand the value of working on large-scale projects one small piece at a time.


2. Create daily schedules.

Hours of unstructured time may create anxiety or overwhelm children with disabilities such as autism or mood disorders. Left to their own devices, many children may spend hours watching television, playing video games, or worse: complaining about how bored they are. Providing children with a daily schedule — and engaging them in some elements of planning — will help them move through their days smoothly, confidently, and with a sense of purpose.

Here is an example of how to schedule a day to keep kids entertained and engaged:
  • 9:00 a.m.   -   Breakfast
  • 9:30 a.m.   -   Chores
  • 10:30 a.m. -   Creative writing — a blog post or a story
  • 12:00 p.m. -   Lunch
  • 12:30 p.m. -   Pool, sports, trip to the park, or other outdoor play
  • 3:00 p.m.   -   Hobby or craft time
  • 4:30 p.m.   -   Free time
  • 6:00 p.m.   -   Dinner
  • 7:00 p.m.   -   Family reading time, game night, or movie night
Some important things to keep in mind:
  • Consistency is key. Even though each day’s schedule may vary slightly, maintaining the basic structure — including meal times and other set features — will help children know what to expect.
  • Review the schedule for the next day each night at bedtime. This will help children who struggle with transitions to feel prepared.
  • Post the schedule in the kitchen or some other readily-accessible place, or let family members carry copies with them. Being able to refer to the schedule throughout the day is both reassuring and empowering for kids who learn visually.
  • Adapt to your child’s preferences and moods from time to time. Even when children need routines to flourish, summer is a time for getting to do the things you most want to do.

3. Read together.

Set a specific time each day for family reading. Everyone can read from her own copy of a book silently, take turns reading out loud, or even listen to a recording of the book together. These techniques will benefit children with dyslexia, auditory processing problems, or other reading-related disabilities. Use chapter breaks as an opportunity to talk about characters, settings, or plot points. As an added bonus to get children excited about finishing a book, plan a party to celebrate making it all the way through. Make your celebration special — and build excitement about it — by baking themed treats or decorating the house.


4. Start a blog.

Many children view using the computer as a reward, so writing on one — instead of in a notebook — may encourage kids to spend additional time drafting posts about their days. This may be particularly helpful for children who struggle to express their ideas and feelings in writing — such as those with dysgraphia, fine motor challenges, or visual processing issues. Once you have determined a set of topics to help focus your child’s composition, encourage her to write about her ideas or experiences a few times each week. Establish a publishing schedule, and create a blog calendar to help keep track of posts. As an added bonus, children may enjoy tracking the blog’s stats. This creates an opportunity to practice math skills, an added benefit for those with dyscalculia, as hit counts increase over the summer.


5. Start a lemonade stand.

A summer staple, the lemonade stand offers children the ability to practice organizational and executive planning, both of which are critical skills for children with attention deficits and other learning disabilities. A successful stand requires children to purchase supplies, choose a location, and engage with customers. Children with autism, for instance, will benefit from the opportunity to engage with other people in a constructive and task-oriented way. Children with dyscalculia will have the opportunity to practice money management, while children with language processing issues can develop communication skills. Finally, allowing children to spend their own profits can help them to appreciate the value of a dollar more fully.

Giving children the opportunity to enjoy the summer in ways that are structured and planned will let them experience the joy of long, lazy summer days while avoiding the potential anxiety that can come with unstructured days and/or significant academic regression.

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