Out and About and On the Go This Summer - Autism Awareness

Out and About and On the Go This Summer

The arrival of summer and good weather allows for more time outdoors and being on the go. The school break means changes in the day’s structure and routine and more free time. Summer camps and activities, field trips, a family vacation, and visitors fill the day. Autistic individuals can find these changes and different demands challenging, even if they are looking forward to them.

Let’s explore how best to prepare autistic individuals for a great summer of new routines, activities, exploration, vacationing, and experiencing all that summer has to offer.

10 Tips for Choosing Activities and Supporting Success

Choosing the right activity can feel like a daunting task when there is a lot on offer. Preferences and interests should be at the forefront of what you choose to do, but expanding a person’s horizons and trying something new is also great for personal growth. When selecting and preparing for an activity, event or attraction, think about the following:

  1. Sensory preferences – Know a person’s sensory preferences, what they need to avoid, and how to accommodate sensory needs. For example, messy play with sand, water or finger paint can be fun but some children may find these textures and sensations overwhelming. If a person is sensitive to noise such loudspeaker commentary, consider using noise canceling headphones to lessen the impact.
  2. Assess the venue or event – Ask how long wait times are to enter, how long the event is, things to know about the venue, where seats are located, and services on site. For example, my autistic daughter loves going to a local amusement park throughout the summer. In order for it to be successful, she enters on a specials needs pass to skip lengthy line ups for rides, we plan what she will eat there ahead of time, and we make a structured plan for the day (first 3 rides, then lunch, then play games to avoid being jostled on rides with a full stomach.)
  3. Are there quiet spaces available? If a person becomes overwhelmed, is there a place to take a break and regroup?
  4. Stay within budget – Summer attractions and events can often be very expensive. Look for ways to save money such as discount days (many museums offer free entry days), low income support fees (reduction in fees with a card), and the  Access2Entertainmemt card through Easter Seals which allows for aides to come in for free.
  5. Start small – Keep the activity length short to begin with and gradually add on time if things are going well. My two adult children are both anxious when they go to a new place so the initial visit is short. Once they are more familiar and start to find the activities they like at a place, they can stay there for longer periods of time.
  6. Make sure the activity understandable – Clear static rules, a well defined beginning and end, predictable or repetitive quality, clear visual representation of what to do, minimal verbal instruction, and structured activities will support the understanding of an activity.
  7. Enlist family and friends for their support – The interests of family and friends can often provide the expanded opportunities for activities. Some families like sports, concerts, nature walks, cooking, travelling, historical sites, gyms – the list is endless. By doing activities that the family likes to do, there will be more opportunities for the autistic person for practice, engagement, and skill building.
  8. Safety considerations – Before utilizing any outdoor space, make sure it is safe. The area should be enclosed with a fence if a child is prone to running away or having a flight response if there is a trigger like a loud noise. If in an open, natural space, stay clear of bike paths and be extra vigilant with supervision around water. In the backyard, remove all garden tools and store them when not in use. Having a pop up tent or little playhouse can provide a quiet, calming space if a child becomes overstimulated and needs a break while outside.
  9. Backyard or Park Sports – There a lots of inexpensive sports and games you can try outside such as badminton, lawn bowling, basketball, frisbee, croquet, mini-golf, soccer or horseshoes.
  10. Gardening – My son did a horticulture program for several years that ended up expanding his diet into areas I never thought possible such as enjoying soups and salads. You can find ideas on gardening in this blog post.

10 Tips to Create Predictability on a Summer Vacation

If you’re going away on a longer trip this summer, planning is the key to making the time away from home successful. Create familiarity, keep routines as close as possible to what they are at home, and ensure predictability which lessens anxiety.

Here are 10 ideas to create predictability when travelling:

1. Plot your journey on a map. As you pass through certain towns or landmarks they can be checked off.

2. If staying in a hotel, pull photos off of the internet. Use photos to create a social story of where you’ll be staying and what you’ll be doing there. Hotel websites will list their amenities; these can be incorporated into a schedule of the stay. Ex: Pool times, breakfast, on-site activities.

3. If not staying in a hotel, try to get photos and information of where you will be staying. Examples might be campground, relative’s house, cabin etc. Use this information in a social story to lessen anxiety.

4. Think about taking a place that has cooking facilities in order to keep food/meals the same. If a child is following a special diet, eating in a restaurant can be difficult. We also bring many of our own GF/CF products because small town grocery stores often don’t carry these items.

5. Plan activities ahead of time and share the information while still at home. Again, the internet is a great tool as most attractions will have a website, allowing for pre-planning and creating familiarity.

6. Allow your children to bring things that anchor them. For my daughter Julia, it’s Sonic plush characters and Wii Games. For my son Marc, it’s his portable DVD player, flags, and books.

7. Suggest doing something that takes in an interest. Marc loves butterflies so we take him to Butterfly World on Vancouver Island. Julia loves cats therefore we visit a second hand bookstore where the owner brings his cats to work. Both children love to swim so we book hotels that have pools.

8. Consider travelling in a trailer or motor home. You can rent, buy or borrow. It is one way to keep your accommodations the same no matter where you are.

9. Plan for a treat while on holidays. Marc gets very excited at the prospect of adding a new flag to his collection. Julia is motivated by a visit to a new toy store to buy a Playmobil item to add to her collection. These things give Marc and Julia something to look forward to on a holiday.

10. When visiting family, keep visits short in duration and expectations reasonable. Big sit-down dinners with family members the child sees only once a year or long visits may be too difficult.

With a little research and planning, you can create a fun, interesting summer that provides experiences for a person to grow and develop. Summertime provides a much needed break from school and other commitments so make the most of your free time. Kick back and enjoy creating a memorable summer for your family doing things you enjoy.

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