By: Dr. Yannick Espinoza, Psy.D., BCBA, LBA
The summer season brings in a change in the weather and routine. During this time of year, many children get to stay home for extended periods. For many neurotypical children, this change is often something they look forward to with excitement. On the other hand, this change in routine can be especially difficult for many individuals diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders like autism since they generally insist on sameness. With the routine out of the norm, this can be tough to get used to. This season can also be particularly stressful for parents, especially those caring for children with autism as this creates a need to supervise them for longer periods in the absence of school and to keep them engaged with activities. To help prepare for the change in routine we offer some helpful tips below to make the transition as smooth as possible for children with autism or other related disorders. We also offer some tools that may help create a safer environment:
- Consider enhanced predictability measures like visuals to help prepare for the change and to summarize the day’s routine ahead of time. Review the upcoming changes with sufficient time and use understandable communication to get the point across to the child. This will vary based on the individual and should be individualized to the person’s specific situation.
- Consider a semi-structured schedule with several activities to keep your child engaged and entertained during blocks of time and to keep the day on a predictable track. This can be a list, organized in chronological order with the activities occurring first on top, and those occurring later in the day below those. Use sequential order on the visual schedule and perhaps use a check off as an activity is completed. This can include both familiar and novel activities such as going for walks with an adult, playing games, coloring activities, nap time, meals, and a structured bedtime, etc. Keep in mind that novel activities may require modeling and cuing to teach initially. Some children may resist engaging in new activities, however, over time, once increasingly familiar with it, that person may come to enjoy it and it can be one additional activity to keep that person engaged and entertained. New activities are likely to create uncertainty at first and may take time to adapt to.
- Implement a safety plan which can include home safety protocols (i.e., storing or removing sharp items, etc.), teaching safety awareness in various circumstances (i.e., water safety, swimming lessons, etc.), setting up cameras or alarms in the entrances and exits of the home so that parents are alerted if child attempts to leave the home without permission. This is especially important around pools or if you live near bodies of water since children with autism are at a high risk of drowning.
- Using a tracking device such an AirTag can be useful for some on a bracelet or as part of an identification bracelet, to be aware of the child’s location.