Forget the day camps, swim lessons and sporting activities. In this essay, autistic mom Megan Amodeo shares what she’s learned to help her autistic daughters have a meltdown free summer.
Ahhh, Summertime! Everyone looks forward to longer days, no school, picnics and all the other wonders brought about by the glorious months of June, July and August. We all love the freedom and carefree days of the best season of the year. Yes summer is, without a doubt, wonderful.
I have three daughters who rejoice each year when that last bell rings signifying summer break. That pure unadulterated joy lasts about a week, if I am lucky, at my house. Inevitably, every year, my beautiful daughters ask the same question. “What are we supposed to do today?”. I will say that my middle child, with ADHD, usually occupies herself. Although, her activities often involve more glue and paint than one can purchase at your local arts and crafts store.
I get the “What should should I do?,” question (a minimum of 50 times a day) from my oldest and youngest daughters on the autism spectrum. I actually start getting this question at least five times a day before summer vacation even starts. Typically, parents enroll their kids in day camps, swim lessons or various sporting activities. Believe me when I say, I have tried this route with my daughters. Unfortunately, more times than I can count, things didn’t exactly turn out the way we expected. We’ve tried karate, swimming, t-ball and various other “fun” summertime adventures. My girls hated these activities. They found swimming lessons scary and unpredictable. Karate was too loud. T-ball was too competitive.
I assumed that because most children love summer activities, mine would follow the same path. I dreamed about lazy summer days watching my girls running around the t-ball field, splashing with friends in the pool, and catching fireflies. But, as we all know, life is not a movie set. It turns out my children could not, would not be doing the activities that seemed “normal” to others.
After many years of trying to convince myself that my daughters would eventually get over the massive sensory overload that was group sports, I realized I had to let go. Organized group sports and activities were too loud, overcrowded, bug-filled, nightmares for my girls. So, I decided to allow them to choose their own activities.
The problem suggesting to my daughters they find something to do, or use their imaginations, only causes confusion, frustration and, sometimes, meltdowns. My autistic girls often have difficulty with their planning skills. I have learned, over the course of many years, that my daughters need me to have activities and ideas at the ready for them when they have free time.
When they were younger, I created a schedule chart with a list of activities. Now that my youngest is ten, I no longer need a visual list of activities but it might work for you. My best advice for summer is, follow your child’s interests. If he/she enjoys drawing, try an art class. If swimming lessons are a top priority, try to find a private instructor. While this can be more expensive, it may save you a lot of time and spare numerous meltdowns (I did private lessons with mine one summer, definitely worth the money). Private lessons provide less sensory overload, often a much quieter space, and more room for questions and repetition of skills.
I also suggest making a fun box. This box can be tailored to the needs of your child. Some of my favorite things to put in our summer box include, but are not limited to:
- jump ropes
- bug nets
I also like to keep an indoor box filled with:
- art projects
- small sensory toys
These boxes are a great way to encourage your child to choose an activity from the box, without overwhelming with too many choices. My girls also think this is a special treat…a treasure chest of goodies!
However you decide to fill your summer days keep in mind your child’s unique needs. It’s not worth pushing something that can cause becoming overwhelmed and over-stimulated. Unhappy campers make everyone grumpy. With a little creative forethought you can enjoy the glorious days of summer meltdown free!