How can I make the summertime fun on a small budget for my child with autism?

Most young families look forward to summertime – a holiday and a break from the old routines. For those who have young children with autism, going on a vacation may be simply out of the question because of the disruption to routines, travelling to a strange place, or having to visit with relatives that the child is unfamiliar with. Throw a special diet into the mix and travelling becomes even more difficult. You have to avoid restaurants and take your own food everywhere. The idea of going on a vacation may seem more trouble than it is worth. How do you pass the summer months with children, especially if you’re on a tight budget? Here are 10 summertime fun activities and ideas for your backyard and beyond.

1. Fun with water. Most kids love splashing around in pools or running through the sprinkler. A small pool is inexpensive and can provide hours of fun. Having a backyard pool is a good option to the public pool or lake because you can avoid the crowds and noise. Both of my children had an aversion to having sand on their feet until they were 3 so going to a sandy beach wasn’t possible. If your children don’t like the pool, try a sprinkler. Toy and department stores carry interesting sprinkler heads if you need to make things a little more interesting.

2. Invest in bikes and a cart. Buying bikes and a cart for the kids to ride in behind was the best investment we ever made. Bicycles and chariots/carts are good items to purchase second hand. They are available in double or single seat models. Our children loved the motion of the cart, the quietness of the ride, and the breeze blowing on them as we ride. We also bought the stroller conversion kit for our cart so we use it as a stroller when need be, particularly in the winter. The wide durable tires can ride over anything.

Now that our children are older, we ride tandem bikes. We made this choice because even though we taught them to ride bikes, they could not cope with following all of the road rules and had difficulty making sudden safety decisions.

Bike rides are great adventures. Pick up a bike map from your local sporting goods store or Chamber of Commerce and vary your routes. Stop at a park along the way for a swing or pack a picnic lunch. Cycling is great exercise for parents and a good diversion for kids.

3. Check out your local library. Libraries are quiet places to go. You can borrow videos, CD’s, tapes, books, and magazines all for the low price of a library card. The library has free summertime programs for little ones such as a story time or songs. These are good activities for socialization and because they are free, you don’t have to worry about losing money if it isn’t working for your child and you have to leave.

4. Consider a family pass to a favorite place. Family passes make it affordable to visit a favorite place often. Attractions like the zoo, theme parks, a recreation center, or a special interest sight can be great places to pass a few hours. Passes pay for themselves in a couple of visits.

5. Find out when free or discounted days are for indoor attractions. It’s good to have some options lined up for rainy days. Many attractions have discounted or free admission days. Ideas to try are a science centre (mine love it there), indoor gyms with equipment, children’s matinee movies, or museums that have interesting displays like dinosaurs. Keep a list of these handy so you know where to go during bad weather.

6. See what programs your community has to offer. Communities offer day programs for a reasonable fee. Most programs geared for over the age of three years don’t allow parents or caregivers to come but they will usually make exceptions when the child has special needs. The enrollment is limited so there aren’t a lot of kids to deal with. Your local YMCA or leisure centre is a good place to start to see what programs are offered. You can pick from sports, drama, music, or craft sessions. Again, these are great vehicles for socialization.

7. Find out about special events in your city. Visit your tourist bureau or Chamber of Commerce to see what special events are coming to your city. Many of these events will be free or offer activities for the price of admission. Festivals, outdoor music concerts, dancing, and plays can be seen outdoors in the summer. You can easily leave the outdoor events if your child can’t handle it.

8. Organize play dates. It’s amazing how toys at another child’s house are so much more interesting than the ones at your house. A change of scene for part of the day is good for kids. It helps them with transitions and interaction with peers. When my children played with “typical” children, I tried to choose children younger or older than they are. The younger ones were more matched to their developmental level and the older ones could take a leadership role. I also got together with people who have children with autism. As parents, none of us bat an eyelash at unusual behaviors.

9. Develop your own local summer hangouts and activities. When my children were little, summer use to be about going down to the reservoir to throw rocks, stopping at McDonald’s for fries, playing in the sandbox, or sitting on the sailboat while it was on the mooring site. Find the things your children like to do. The simply things don’t cost big money and are often loved the most.

10. Consult some books about special, low cost activities. Read the Out of Sync Child Has Fun, Active Imagination, Early Intervention Gamesor Simple Low-Cost Games and Activities for Sensorimotor LearningAll of these books suggest simple games, crafts and other interactive projects that use materials from around the house or Dollar Store.

Summer around home doesn’t have to be boring, a chore, or expensive. With a little research and planning, you can create a fun, educational summer providing experiences for your child to grow and develop. Relax, take it easy and don’t get in a knot about the small stuff. Summertime provides a needed break from programming and therapy so make the most of your free time with the kids. Kick back and enjoy creating a memorable summer for your family.

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