It is finally time to pack away the winter coats, and welcome long sun-filled days of summer. While the season brings a sense of excitement and joy for most children, it also means a change in daily routine. Schools are preparing to close the season, and parents are looking for ways to keep their children engaged during the holidays. Most kids look forward to this refreshing change, but for some others with autism, this can be a challenging time. They might find the transition from the school year to the summer overwhelming and experience sensory changes they are not used to. Despite the potential stress that children with autism might experience with the transition to summer, there are many activities that can support the needs, interests, and development of these youth. We’ll share some ideas for summer activities that can be beneficial and even enjoyable for children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder). By giving your child activities to participate in during the summer, you can not only support their development and encourage sensory management, but you can also potentially reduce challenging behaviors.
Children should spend time outdoors often if they can. Being outdoors is beneficial for development – allowing opportunities for physical activity and giving the child the benefits of spending time in nature and being in the sunshine. Sunshine may improve mood, and physical health, and reduce challenging behaviors and even depression and anxiety.
Children with autism sometimes struggle with mealtimes in certain ways. For instance, they might only eat a limited number of foods. They might need food prepared a certain type of way. Having a picnic outside can bring new opportunities for children to try new foods. It can make mealtimes more fun. If this their first picnic or they are not especially fond of being outdoors, ease them into it by bringing their favorite foods initially and gradually introducing new foods with each outing.
Playing in a sandbox with shovels and buckets, and other materials can offer children with autism a sensory experience that can be relaxing. It can support fine motor development and be a chance for children with autism to practice and improve their social and communication skills. If the child has friends or siblings, or there are other kids at a local park who are also playing in the sandbox, the child can practice taking turns, sharing, having conversations with other kids, working together, asking for help, and much more.
The number one priority with water-based play is safety, of course. However, children with autism can benefit from playing in water. It can be a good sensory activity to play at a water table or to go swimming in a pool or at the beach. The beach can combine the experiences from both sand play and water play. Summer is a great time to get swimming lessons for your child with autism.
For children who are able, riding bikes offers exercise and a chance to practice safety skills. Enjoying bike rides with a parent can foster the parent-child relationship, as well. Even children who don’t have the ability to ride a bike yet can also join in the fun. Parents can push them in a tricycle bike with a steering mechanism. There are also carriers available for young children that can be hooked on to an adult bike, giving them an experience of enjoying this activity.
Taking children with autism on hikes has many benefits as it can provide sensory experiences in many areas. The sounds of birds chirping, gushing waterfalls, rustling trees, etc. can provide auditory experiences. Children with autism can also experience visual stimulation from different textures, terrains, colors, etc. that flourish in a natural setting. Other sensory inputs include scents and textures that can also be found outdoors.
Family board games are a great way to bond any time of year, but when the summer sun gets relentless, families can enjoy a variety of board games indoors. For children with autism who have high energy, board games can be a way to teach them skills like attention, patience, communication, and much more.
Nurture their inner artist, and offer your children activities you think they might be most interested in. Some kids might like coloring while others might like to paint more. Some kids prefer step-by-step crafts, while others might like to do art freely. Children with autism can experience great benefits from arts and crafts, from fine motor development to improving their ability to follow directions to developing their creativity and independence, and much more.
With the school out, make sure their academic progress is not affected. Offer and encourage kids to participate in activities that utilize their cognitive skills. Create a daily schedule and include time for reading, writing, math, and problem-solving. To foster reading skills in children with autism, it is recommended to find material that aligns with the child’s interest. Usually, children have preferred interests. Depending on age, these can be dinosaurs, trains, cartoon characters, shapes – the opportunities are endless. Pick the ones they like and encourage them to build the skills around these interests.
Social skills are usually an area of focus for children on the spectrum. While there are daily opportunities to encourage children to be social, it is important to do this in a compassionate way that takes into consideration what is in the best interest of the child. For instance, some kids want to hang out with friends often, whereas others like to be alone most of the time. After considering what is best for your child, give them opportunities to spend time with friends or family members during the summer so they can work on social skills and relationships. If approached in the right way, these experiences can greatly add to the child’s quality of life and set a great foundation for their future.
Although summer can present some challenges for children with autism, it can also be a time for new experiences and even fun. Summer is a great opportunity for children with autism to develop in many ways, from fine motor skills to social skills to supporting their relationships and much more. They can even spend time on their special interests since kids often have more free time in the summer than they do during the school year.
Although there are many activities that can support the development and well-being of children with autism, we have offered some great recommendations for you to encourage your child to participate in during the summer months.