Thought I share some tips of mine from my summer adventures when my kids were little.
Having children on the Autism spectrum can be a little more challenging when summer rolls around. Now we have a pandemic to work around when scheduling summertime fun, just so much to deal with. It’s still doable, these are just some things we did and suggestion I think might be helpful for summer time fun.
Pre pandemic- Swimming lessons, early morning walks to the park in our neighborhood, visiting farms and outdoor events.
Here in Arizona we have to get up really early to beat the heat in the summer months. Swimming lessons were always inexpensive because we have such a high rate of drownings. The city encourages swimming lessons and CPR classes for adults. They want everyone in this city to have the opportunities to learn how to swim. My kids started swim lessons at 9 months old. This is done with moms and dads of course.
In Arizona some of our parks have water play areas called splash pads. Parks are free and the kids loved running through sprinklers where water sprays from colorful animal characters and tunnels with showers of water falling from above. It’s a fun way to spend a couple hours outdoors. The sun can be extreme so pack lots of waterproof sunscreen.
At the public swimming pools, depending on where lessons were, kids up to age 18 got a free meal in the morning and at lunch. This is a program that our state had where no child would go hungry during the summer months when they were no longer in school. They also have swimming lessons at the public schools for special needs children and handicap kids. There is no reason in this city not to teach your children how to swim, all children.
Most outdoor events are free here in the city. The places that do charge usually aren’t too bad. For museums it is best to buy yearly passes. The zoo in our city has their own water play days which include a day of snow. They bring in piles and piles of ice for the kids to cool off and have fun.
Post pandemic- If I had little ones now I would do things a little different of course. The state has made many changes since the virus. Like making sure classes are much smaller, with everyone staying safely apart after washing hands at cleaning stations. Swimming lessons started up here again in our state because they are so important. Water is so dangerous for little ones.
I would still sign my kids up for lessons even now with a pandemic in the world. Arizona has always been pretty much open. We only had two months of a lock downs when the virus first hit. Just be smart, safe distance, and wash hands. Masks are not possible during swimming lessons but it is an outdoor activity after all. Common sense tells most of us that swimming is done in a pool full of chlorine, and a sky full of beautiful sunlight and UV rays…just saying. You all know what that means.
Parks- parks can get very crowded and water parks have kids running around being very close to each other, touching and falling down and into other children sitting and playing in puddles. I don’t think the water splash pads have been open since the pandemic though. Even though Arizona is pretty much open, there are still some things that are still not part of that plan. You know, like drinking fountains being taped off and no longer available to drink from.
ASD tips- Crowds and lots of noise and activities can be overwhelming when it comes to sensory issues. The heat can cause sweating which can be extra irritating to children on the spectrum who have a hyper sensitivity to how that feels. The sunlight can be overwhelming to sensitive eyes too. Some children on the spectrum don’t do well with bright lights. Make sure to have hats, sunglasses, and plenty of water.
Those spray water bottles with a fan on the end are fun ways to let your child have control over how to stay cool when outside. They control when they want to spray themselves and turn on the fans.
Ice packs in car seats and to carry when walking around help your child feel at ease with the changes in temperatures by having something cool near by for them to hold onto. Make sure to limit summer time outdoor activities to early mornings and evenings if you are here in Arizona. Be very careful of too much sun exposure during the hottest part of the day. Sunburns cause pain for everyone but for children with a super hyper sensitivity to pain, it will be so miserable for them. If they don’t like the texture of lotion being put on them try sun sprays.
When visiting animals or farms make sure to pay close attention to children who may like to smack things a lot. Explain to the people in charge of the farm that your child has special needs and the things to look out for in their reactions to certain situations. Like the proper ways to collect eggs or picking fruits and veggies from a garden. Some children will seek certain sensory behaviors that are not polite in normal situations like squeezing tomatoes until they burst or not being very gentle with animals. It’s best to hand over hand while standing over your child teaching and introducing them ways to interact with animals. Or how to pick fruits and veggies and place them gently into baskets. Being around animals is a great way to teach children gentle ways to appreciate the natural world we live in. Being out around others is also a great way to teach your child and encourage them interact with others. Every child is different, so pay attention to anything that may trigger certain behaviors.
Pre pandemic- Indoor events always included daytime summer camps, park programs through the city, library visits and museum visits. Weekly shopping adventures. Visits with family and friends having parties. Movie summer passes.
Summer camps are available all over the city. There are even camps for children on the spectrum but they can get very expensive. I always feared my non verbal child being away from me was not such a good idea. He is verbal now but those early years were scary times for my husband and I. I know there are some great summer camps out there for children on the spectrum but parents of non verbal children tend to shy away from programs like that. They usually send habs with their children so they are never alone when needing help with communication skills.
For free programs the city sometimes had fun classes available for families that were on strict budgets. Our community center in our neighborhood had a free Friday and Saturday art class available for children to attend that was run by volunteers.
When the art teacher could no longer teach it, I would take over and volunteer for awhile. The city gave me a budget to go and buy art supplies while I designed and taught arts and crafts in the city. I even started a class where all children were included so children on the Spectrum could have the same opportunities as other kids that attended the original class format.
I remember one time a mother sneering and saying a rude comment about “Isn’t there another class for kids like that” and yeah, it happens. Some moms and even dads out there can be so cruel when they see kids acting up , even with special needs, they don’t want their children to be exposed to that. There really is an ugliness out there with some personalities out there in the world, like some people are missing an empathy gene.
Charter schools also had fun summer camp programs available for the first two months of summer. They didn’t cost as much as the private summer camps. They basically had all the same things to do when entertaining the kids. Cooking, sculpting, painting and indoor games and sports.
Private centers like the zoo and museums have summer camp programs. Even universities here in our state had programs for teens. These camps can get very expensive depending on the hours and how long you were registered. They are a lot of fun though. Some children on the spectrum are really into science and tech. They love classes that let them design robots and study biology.
The library- Every year the library through a grant would put on summer reading programs. Depending on how much you read, you can get several prizes. Prizes like passes to parks like slide rock in Sedona or botanical gardens to explore. Prizes for free food and free books too. The library also did a fun summer event where kids came in to watch puppet shows, Magic tricks, and even small animal shows with snakes, birds and sugar gliders.
Summer movie passes- these were so much fun. You pay one price for the whole summer and every week there was a movie to watch at our local theater. This was perfect for little ones that were too young to understand proper movie etiquette. Kids were running around, jumping in seats, throwing popcorn sometimes…it was a mess but a great way to practice the right ways and wrong ways to behave in a movie theater. No one was upset when the whole theater was packed with kids of all ages behaving like kids. It was a safe place for parents to teach their children the joys of watching movies on the big screen.
Shopping trips- we would cut out pictures in paper ads of the stores in our area and search out these items when shopping. Or have the kids pick out items they wanted from photos in the ads. Non verbal children enjoy shopping trips when they can communicate what they want or would like.
Post pandemic- Most places still do summer camp programs here in the city. They are just smaller classes along with offering virtual summer camps online for those that choose doing things only online. Some libraries are finally opening up here in the city but again, in smaller groups. Sadly, since the huge library downtown had their accident where all the children’s books were damaged, well most anyway, their selection of books have changed.
At first blaming the flooding on a storm that blew in one night that had very little if any measurable rain (this is Arizona after all) to finally admitting that there was a problem with the sprinkler systems in the rooms downstairs. They just went off one night damaging many books we were told.
It reminds me of what happened here in our country during our election in one state ( no conspiracy here, just news) apparently sprinklers went off to cause problems in one county’s voting center, making it shut down so no one was allowed in when “they” counted , if I remember right, best to look that up yourselves. November seems like several decades ago, hard to remember all those lost details so I could be wrong but I do remember a similar incident happening that reminded me of our city library shutting down for a year, way before the pandemic too. Lots of similar patterns in this new world of ours.
Sadly, books that encourage self sufficiency and books on topics like fishing are almost impossible to find now here in our city libraries. There is a reason our second hand stores are running low on books in some areas. People see what is going on and they are shopping accordingly. Start shopping for books, they are becoming rare on certain subjects.
ASD tips- Children on the spectrum usually don’t like being around other people and prefer to be alone. It’s still important to encourage getting out and seeing events or other people. Always have back up plans when taking ASD children out. Look for quiet areas to take them to in case of any melt downs or sensory overload.
Always have your child’s favorite snacks and favorite stemming toys with you when out in public. Even children not on the spectrum may need something comforting when out in strange places. A small puppet to hold onto was a favorite of my daughters. She went everywhere with her Cookie monster puppet. My son loved a bag of Cheetos or suckers to suck on. He also loved turning pages in a book and looking at them over and over. I always carried a small book for him in my purse.
Find those things that make your children feel comfortable while in new and strange places. When outdoors make sure to dress your child in a bright solid colored shirt so you can spot them easily if they do get out of your reach, and have an emergency contact necklace on them or bracelet for any emergency situation where they may separate from you. There are trackers now that were not available when my children were very little. Technology does have it’s good points.
Loosing an ASD non verbal child in a crowded situation is a parents worse nightmare. It’s important to always have these plans in place when taking your ASD child to summer events. I encourage everyone to continue exposing your child to many opportunities to educate and expose them to as much as possible.
Happy summer adventures everyone. I hope you and your children have a ton of fun out there. Later I hope to have some ASD summer time sensory crafts to share with you all in the coming months.