Summer vacation for autism is a little like getting new computer software. Did you ever get something new that was not what you expected?
Let me tell you my story. . .
I realize that some of you computer geeks would actually love to get a new program. New software is like an adrenaline rush. That’s not me.
Can you see where I am going with this?
Non geeks will identify with me here. I like my old friends. Over time I’ve learned how to make my slow stodgy computer do everything I wanted it to do. Now I keep trying to accomplish tasks but the new computer program doesn’t do I want it to.
Little stuff can make a difference.
The stress comes from.. . .the glitches. I have had to learn a NEW way to accomplish what I used to do. Once my Computer Guy worked me through the new routines and tweaks, I gained confidence.
That is what summer vacation can feel like for autism
Everything feels different. Even if it is all the same, it’s different. Vacations away from school have glitches. . .even when everything is “the same.” Because, even when it is the same, it really isn’t. Get it? Some students won’t demonstrate difficulty with this, but others will.
Recognize that vacation can be stressful for autism
Be aware that especially the first days away from the regular school schedule will be challenging for students. In fact, the whole summer can be difficult. Routines are changed. You can avoid many problems if you plan accordingly. Here are a few tips.
- Provide a review
When I hit the glitches on my computer, Computer Guy showed me some things I already knew. But he started at the beginning and worked me through the whole routine necessary to accomplish my goals. Through that, he was able to help me know what to do before I encountered some of the challenges.
It’s kinda the same with summer vacation. We ASSUME our students on the autism spectrum understand what everyone else knows about the summer break. They don’t. That’s why it’s good to follow Computer Guy’s example.
Start at the beginning and explain the whole thing. Get a notebook or a 3-ring binder to create a “summer book.” Write it all down like a story. Write about why he is not going to school, how the schedule will change and what will be happening. Include all the important details. Find or draw a few pictures to make it more interesting.
It’s important to keep this information in the notebook or binder. That way you can go back to review. Review is a really important part of this process.
- Give information
Get one of those big office calendars to hang on the wall. Put important information on it. Write words or use pictures or both. Mark the day school stops. Mark the day school starts again. Fill in other significant info like swimming lessons or family outings.
For extra value, write about these events in the summer book, too. Write little stories to talk about upcoming events. Create explanations of what you already did. Add photos to preserve memories.
- Create change thoughtfully
When the school routine stops, many other things will change, too. Changing many things at once can cause greater stress and anxiety. But, change can be good.
Create a daily schedule or summer routine for the student to follow. Of course, make it visual. When students can SEE what is happening they tend to be much calmer about change than if they have to guess what is happening.
Keep this in mind. . .students may actually handle it better when you completely change a whole routine than if you make a few tweaky changes in an already learned routine. Put all this information in the summer book, too.
- Use visual tools
Visual strategies can help. Use visual tools to tell students what to do, teach new routines or remind them about changes. Even if you think the student already knows what to do, the presence of the visual tool can reduce the stress that comes from change.
- Use “down time” well
Summer schedules provide more opportunities for leisure or relaxation time. Unfortunately, unstructured time can often become problematic. Create a “Fun Page” of some desirable leisure activities. Be sure to put this in the summer book. Then when the student needs something appropriate to do you can send him to look at his Fun Page to choose something.
It doesn’t take much time
Collecting a few visual supports will take a little bit of time. This doesn’t need to become an overwhelming project. Visual tools don’t need to be perfect, they just need to work. Just keep in mind that investing a little time in the beginning may save you from having to manage lots of frustrating situations all summer.