Creating a Flexible Summer Routine
Summer can be a wonderful time, with warm weather and a relief from rigid school schedules; however, even in the summer, routines can still be beneficial, especially for kids on the autism spectrum. In this month’s issue of Metro Parent, Lainey Rubin, Assistant Clinical Director at Gateway’s Sterling Heights location, talks about how to balance structure with flexibility during the summer.
In the article, Rubin recommends book ending the day with structured activities as a way of both preparing kids for the day ahead and helping them get ready to settle in for the evening. You can create a list of tasks that need to be completed in the morning and evening, but leave the order of those lists up to the child. Allowing this flexibility will increase their independence, as well as their willingness to complete these tasks, as they will feel more empowered by getting a say. Additionally, Rubin suggests selecting evening tasks that are reasonable for a child that may be tired and fussy after a long day at the pool or a day camp. To help ease into bedtime, she recommends activities such as coloring or completing puzzles rather than using electronics, which can be overly stimulating right before going to bed.
Rubin mentions that, while many kids love spontaneity in their daily routines, that unknown variable can be overwhelming for children with autism. Because you may do activities in the summer that can’t typically be done at other times throughout the year, it could be beneficial to let your child know about new plans in advance, so they have time to prepare themselves for the change in routine. Additionally, it could be a good idea to have backup plans in case the weather doesn’t cooperate on a particular day, or someone isn’t feeling well.
It’s also important not to wait until the last minute before getting ready to leave for the planned activities. Rubin suggests getting in the habit of using timers and ‘first-then’ statements to help get kids ready to go, such as “First shoes, then car”. This can help alleviate some stress and anxiety that may arise leading up to the activity, and can help make the activity itself more enjoyable.
Even when you know your child can complete certain tasks or handle changes to their routine without a meltdown, it’s important to provide positive reinforcement for a job well done. Offering things like high-fives, verbal praise, or candy from time to time can be a great way to show how much you appreciate them putting their dishes away or brushing their teeth. According to Rubin, those moments can help strengthen positive behavior over time, and build an even stronger rapport between you and your child.
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