10 Tips for Successful Summer Adventures with Your Special Needs Child

Summer Adventures - Photo fram the Travelblog.comSummer is upon us.

If your family is anything like mine, subtract the home remodeling insanity that couldn’t end any faster than if it ended yesterday, this summer is not going so smoothly. When it began I had high hopes of play dates for my neurotypical kiddos while managing my special one. I haven’t had many of those, but with one month left filled with attempts to make the most of the summer break, I’ve come up with some of my own helpful hints that I pray help us happily get through…in tact.

1) Communicate: The needs of your family, as unique as they are, are not understood by all. In fact, many times, we are the ones perplexed. Still, the subtle nuances of what makes a time successful or less than enjoyable for all involved should be explained. At the very least, make an effort to foretell what may make or break an outing with other families. This way, if a quick get away is warranted, no feelings are hurt. Most people will understand. If they don’t…well, that’s a whole other post.

2) Enlist some help: Maybe the outings don’t involve other families, but you’re wanting to manage your own family adventure. Enlist some help! Look around, there may be one or more adults who will want to tag along. You can’t go wrong with additional arms and eyes. Find times that are convenient for your ‘helpers’. Making this as convenient for them as possible is key in gaining their help at another future time.

3) Consider your child’s peers: Have you noticed any peers that your special kiddo can manage around? This includes typical and not-so-typical kiddos…What about typical peers or slightly older peers that can tag along as helpers? Don’t hesitate to look in that direction. Obviously, this will need to be a fairly responsible, mature or otherwise ‘good’ peer that doesn’t create more work for you. If your helper is substantially older, like an older neighborhood teenager, you might consider payment as a parent helper.

4) Have a backup plan: Adventures can also stretch the boundaries of what makes your special kiddo comfortable. This can either be a good introduction to new places and faces that your kiddo may come to love or, many times, it won’t be. Have a backup plan of a more familiar scene. Maybe the backup plan includes taking your kiddo to a family member or scrapping the day’s events all together. Just have a back up plan.

5) Bring along entertainment: Yet another post will be a soap box of mine…the ‘experts’ telling us not to allow our kiddos to watch too much TV, videos, have too much computer time, etc. But…our kiddos are different (again another post – another time). A smart phone is a saving grace! It doesn’t have to be yours. Use a friend’s smart phone (Droid / iPhone), an iPad, or use WiFi access with a laptop or design your outing around places that have these. Bring games, cards, books, favored toys, calming light toys. Our ‘diaper bags’, long gone from infancy have turned into a back of “Special Tricks”. Keep them with you!

6) Use a picture schedule: You are changing the routine and adding a new element. Give your child an idea that although this is a change, the return to a “normal” routine will follow. You can reinforce this with the photo of the next ‘normal’ event in line below your adventure.

7) Consider a social story: If you are used to writing your own social stories, this is another time to develop one and review it with your child with enough time for a clear understanding to be absorbed. If this is unfamiliar territory for you, ask your child’s teacher (if you have a good relationship with the teacher in the off times) or look at books that can help you achieve the proper social story for your child’s development level.

8 ) Use Rewards: If there ever is a time to use a reward system, this is it. Summer provides a whole set of challenges for a child with special needs. The lack of routine, no matter how much we try to develop one, is difficult enough. Children with developmental delays or other neurological conditions may not be able to understand what a ‘summer break’ truly is. Making rewards throughout the day (whether on adventure or not) helps…everyone. When on an adventure, make sure you reinforce what your child is “working for” or “working towards” and be SURE to follow through on your end as soon as possible. After all, he worked very, very hard.

9) Stay at home: Yes, that’s right. At home. Where your child is most likely most comfortable. Have friends come to your home where your child can easily disappear into another room or space that helps bring calm. Have something different to do at different times of the day. Right now, my children are know that at some point in the day we’ll be filling up the small swimming pool for splash time. It’s not ideal, it’s a very small ‘kiddy’ or ‘baby’ pool, but, the kids play and have fun. It’s a routine and adventure in our own front yard…and many times, we invite friends to come join us for an hour.

10) Go with the flow: Be prepared that no matter how many preparations you make, the outing, gathering or other summer adventure may fail miserably…yet, it’s not a failure. You’ve learned from it. You know what you can do better, think through more thoroughly. You have also stretched your special kiddo’s comfort zone, leaving the next time to be less traumatic and you more prepared.

These are just my quick tips. What adjustments have you made? What have your summer experiences been thus far?

Gina St. Aubin
Gina St. Aubin is a former Victim’s Advocate who now advocates for those with intellectual and physical challenges. Her eldest son is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Electrical Status Epilepticus during Sleep / Landau-Kleffner Syndrome (a rare epileptic disorder causing verbal aphasia) and Developmental Delays. In June, 2012, her son also underwent a successful hemispherectomy. Gina is the editor, author and owner of Special Happens, serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the SPD Foundation, and resides in Colorado where she is a mother of 3, wife, blogger, writer and special needs advocate. You can reach Gina through various Special Happens connections on Facebook and Twitter, or email her directly.
Gina St. Aubin
Gina St. Aubin

2 Responses to 10 Tips for Successful Summer Adventures with Your Special Needs Child

  1. Terrific tips, Gina! Going to share on my blog’s FB page so others can benefit as well. Not necessarily a summer tip, but one that became a lifesaver for me was a stash of GFCF friendly food, napkins, and wipes in the trunk. If your child is on a special diet, you can’t just zip through a drive thru to get a quick snack when you’re late for something, in charge of it as well, and your child says, “I’m hungry!” and you know hunger will make it worse…Just my experience. ;)

  2. I like these tips, and they apply for ANYONE with children. (We’re not going to talk about how much television time my kids logged on a recent trip to Grandma’s, okay?) That said, I really really really really love your idea for a picture schedule. My oldest doesn’t have any type of condition that’s been diagnosed except for mild ADHD, but the child clings to routine like it’s his only life raft and I just dropped him in the middle of the Yangtze river. Vacations are hell unless I make a schedule for each and every day and stick to it like glue, even if that schedule is “We’re going to (X) at noon and coming back at seven”.

    I’m sorry, I ramble :) I love love love love love this post, and think that every parent with a child should read it, whether they have special needs or not!

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