Friday, July 19, 2013

Scheduling Those Last Open-Ended Weeks of Summer

It's tough during the summer to make sure that everything in your child's life goes smoothly, or at least what passes for smooth in a house full of persons who live on the autism spectrum. Schedules are off. The days are longer. The heat is oppressive. Time can actually come to a standstill it seems. So what can you do to keep up your game?


For most families the lazy days of summer are an enjoyment. But for families that deal with autism issues, these unscheduled disorganized days are hard, very hard. It's OK to admit it. It really is. We simply need to do something about it that is all.

By the middle of July you have simply had enough. Enough with the meltdowns and enough with the lack of structure. Yes your child might be in ESY, but in reality its not anything near as productive as regular school. Plus ESY ends weeks before the academic school year begins. Those empty days are the hardest to deal with for our children. The trick? Give them things to do in a scheduled and organized manner.

Make sure that you have a schedule. DO NOT let the day take you where it may. Plan every day and if need be every moment of every day. Use the weekend to make a daily schedule for the coming week. Yes, the schedules can be redundant. Heck that is the best kind of schedule for our children. It's always best when they know what to expect. Write it out. Create a daily chart that your child can see. If they cannot read, make pictures.If they are old enough, let them help you make the schedule. Make certain that the times for each activity are listed and your child can check off each accomplished task.

Also do NOT forget to give warnings when it is about time to change activities. Children, and especially our children, cannot just move to the next activity without any kind of warning.The younger the child the longer the warnings and the more frequent.(Start even at the five minute warning and come back every minute til its time to change.)  Use a kitchen timer to set the time for each period. Let them help. Use a digital clock for children that can't tell time but can read number. In fact if you are trying to teach "time" this can be part of the exercise.

P.S. If your child is really enjoying an activity and it is fun, engaging and they are happy, you can extend it and show them how to adjust the daily schedule to suit that change too. It is the beginning of flexibility and flexibility is an important trait for them to learn.

P.S.S. For those who go on vacation make sure you continue to schedule the days. Vacations can set our children off since it is so out of the realm of their normal day-to-day. Organize them so they and you can have fun. This includes if you are going to have a "staycation." (Here, Here) In fact get your children to have some input into what they would like to do and not do during this time.

Here are some basic scheduling rules:

- Wake your child up at a consistent time. Granted that is not an issue with many of our children as sleep is the real issue. But make certain that you wake them, no matter what, at the same time each day. I have found that there is unseen stimuli that helps your child adjust through the day. If they miss that familiarity they can be set off. Even the place of the sun in the sky has an effect on our children.

- Make sure meal times are consistent. If you plan an outing figure in these normalized meal times. It is NEVER good to wait until your child is hungry. Many autistics cannot even read their own body signals and even as adults need alarms to remind them to eat and drink. Throw into the mix medications that cut the appetite and you will have a cranky, unhappy child who will not understand why they are so grumpy.

- Give your child some responsibility. Have them do chores. Assign a different one everyday.
(a) If they don't know how to clean their room or are too young to do it themselves, teach them.
(b) Help them make their beds.
(c) Put away their toys.
(d) Set the table for each meal.
(e) Clean up and even depending on their age, let them wash the dishes. (Here you might have to redo the dishes when they are out of sight, but its good for them to start to learn how to clean-up after themselves.)
(f) Have them do some part of the laundry. Even bringing the hamper to the laundry area or helping bring the cleaned clothes into the bedrooms and putting them away are major chores.
(g) Let them help care for the lawn. If they are too young to mow the lawn, let them help put down fertilizer, grass seed, pick up weeds or help collect the dog poop in the lawn. Since many of our children have SPD and have issues with dirt, buy latex gloves or work gloves so they feel more comfortable outside. The latex gloves can be worn to do any number of chores in the house too from washing dishes to cleaning the bathrooms.
(h) Let them help clean the cars inside and out.
(i) Let them help make the grocery list and have them come to the supermarket. (Yes, I know, most of us do not have babysitters and cannot leave the kids at home anyway. Just give them chores to do in the store-all within eyesight of course. Engage them in what is being bought and why.) Let them help pack up the groceries to bring home. It might be a mess and it might take longer, but its good that they also understand the entire process of shopping.
(j) If they are old enough let them help make their meals. Most younger children can make a pb&j. They can read directions on the side of a package too. Teach your child to read a recipe. One day they will need to be independent and cook for themselves. )This will take a longtime to master so the earlier they start the better.)

- Make sure there is fun time everyday too. If you do not have access to a pool, how about sprinklers in the backyard? Video game play? Arts and crafts (really messy but they can help with the cleanup)? Watch their favorite TV shows. This is not failed parenting. But a good break for you and for them.

- Review their academics. Make sure they are reading or being read to. Practice their ABCs. Practice math facts or learn their numbers. Practice their colors. There are all kinds of fun ways to do this. From computer programs, to workbooks to your own ingenuity. (You do not have to buy homeschooling materials to do this successfully.)

- Work in their therapists, and doctor appointments of course. Summer is a great time to get everything reviewed, revamped and rearranged for the upcoming fall. But make sure your child has a big heads-up if the appointment is an anomaly. Put it in their schedule and make sure you even mention it and show the child the day before.

- Make sure bedtime is consistent and organized. Keep the bedtime routine the absolute same everyday during the summer. It is hard for anyone to want to go to bed when the sun is out, but fro those that run on sensory input and not clock input it is very very very hard to go to sleep. Remember that once they hit that bath, it should be a prelude to calming down, chilling out and getting prepared for slumber.

I actually have to admit that the last few weeks of summer right before school begins has always been the hardest when the boys were little. Of course, now that they are youngmen, they basically have figured out their own way of being. But in all honesty if we didn't give them chores and assignments they would do absolutely nothing, which is also not a productive way to be. We create a list of chores and they are assigned tasks. When they do them is up to them as long as the chores get done.

We have also added the simple incentive of "pay." If they want video games they need to earn them. Each chore has an assigned value and they work off the cost of the game. No its not the same as a regular job, but they at least know that not everything gets handed to them without some effort. It is enough for the boys to organize and deal with the stress of school. Adding in the stress of a part-time job is not good for my offspring. However, for others that may be the right thing to do. A friend figured out that her son actually does better at school if he has to organize around a part-time job. You simply need to know your own child and what is best for them.

- Last thing on the schedule (YOUR schedule. This does not have to be written down for your child.) Sit down on the couch or outside on the porch. Have a little glass of wine or cup of tea (sweetened ice tea if you are in the south). Put on your favorite television show or open a good book. Talk to the spouse (or significant other) about their day and engage in some adult conversation. Use facetime or skype to have some adult conversation if the nearest adult BFF is far away. Take a moment for yourself. This will help you regroup and reconnect with your inner qi (chi) so you can get up in the morning and make certain your children have some very good end of the summer days.

For more posts on this subject visit the my webpage : Social Stories; Scheduling; Pragmatic Speech


Here's something for everyone living through that east coast heat wave:

Now what would the summer be without some Beach Boys...