It’s official. Summer vacation is here and we are in the process of all adjusting to the changes this brings. I am home from one of my jobs or the rest of the summer and available to work around Michael’s schedule more. Michael does not have to be up super early to leave the house with Dad to go to school, and Dad has his personal space more in the am as he can now leave for work alone again. Coming off our first summer long weekend, we also all adjusted to being home four days together and kept busy with family events, local outdoor kids’ festivities, and structuring our home environment so Michael had an idea of what would be happening. This worked well for the most part, though there were some ups and downs which is to be expected when any change happens. Still, our challenge as Michael is growing older, is to make sure we structure what we can, and also allow for some unstructured times. This is good as it will help Michael to learn to be less rigid in his way of thinking. We had great scheduling for him as a baby and younger child, but it only helped solidify his rigidity on routine.
Then we tried in the last three years to move away from so much structure and being overly optimistic at Michael’s ability to communicate and understand, mistakenly tried to under structure his day and tell him he either had to go with whatever we decided on the fly, or we gave him more control than we meant to by giving him too many choices. Sigh. The road to hell…. as the saying goes. So now, we are backtracking a bit on our more laissez-faire attitude and bringing back super structure, but with a difference this time. We are throwing in some which we are letting Michael structure and when there are things out of his and our control, we are working with him on becoming less rigid and stressed. We are showing him by modeling it ourselves that sometimes when there are changes in plans (it rains on a day you wanted to go swimming or a friend gets sick and a play date is canceled) it is ok. We all can learn to roll with the punches and make alternate plans.
So how can a parent of an exceptional child with autism strike the balance between structure and unstructure during the summer holidays? Here are some things that are working for our family:
- Have a visual schedule with the structured plans written down: It’s important to write or draw the events of the day and week down on paper to cover the stuctured part and so your child’s anxiety does not continue to grow.
- Talk with child about unpredictability and how they could manage it: This is important as it teaches your child how to handle life’s unexpected curve balls which all children, with and without autism, have to learn to handle. For younger children or if your child is not as comfortable with words or language, drawing simple scenarios can really help too.
- Give them some say and decision in what is happening: Don’t give them all the power. For final decision and household activities, remember you the parents are in charge. However, this doesn’t mean that your child cannot have some say in what activities they would like to do or where and who they would like to see. It’s important to give them some choice and control, but it is measured and controlled by the parents.
- Take care of yourselves with down time and couple and friend time: Exceptional parents go above and beyond for their children and this can wear them out physically and psychologically so that they are no good for anyone. Remember to recharge your batteries by relaxing alone and with family and friends. This will help make your summer more pleasant with your child too.
- Don’t be afraid to change it up if it’s not working: Finally, if your child is more stressed than happy as you are, it may be time to change your system. This is when seeking outside help is so important. It’s hard to admit as parents when we are struggling with our kids, but we are human beings after all who make mistakes. We can learn from them as can our kids. Seek therapy for yourself, you partner and your child if you need it.
Exceptional Parents, what is your ideal set up for the summer for your exceptional child and family? What works for all of you? If you are struggling at this time of year, know you are not alone. Many families have gone through and are going through what you are right now. Don’t be afraid to make the changes you need to make so that your child and the rest of your family can become happier and healthier over the summer vacation period. And last but not least, remember to start each day over fresh and laugh together as a family. That will help tremendously in the long run. Until next time.