School will soon be out for summer, which means your child’s daily routine will likely change. School days will.be replaced by days filled with activities. New smells and sounds from the beach and boardwalk treats to fireworks and festive parades. Quality time with friends and relatives living outside the area. These may not seem like red flags to most people, but for children with autism the hallmarks of summer often invite unpredictability and stress. This impacts not only them, but also their parents and siblings. However, with some simple planning, you can ensure that your child will not only be safe, but will also feel comfortable during the summer months. Autism Moms Are Beautiful magazine hopes that every person with autism is able to enjoy the fun and adventures that summer brings–with a little extra planning and preparation to keep everyone safe!
Summer Safety Plan
Summer often introduces new day providers, family members, or summer camp staff to help care a person with autism, and those caregivers may not be very familiar with autism and how autism impacts the care that a child with autism needs. In addition, during family vacations, travel, and visits to attractions, there will be many people who do not have a high level of autism awareness.
Before the summer begins, develop a Safety Plan for your child. Prepare emergency information cards for home, camp, and any vehicles in which your child may travel. Make sure each emergency contact information card is current and includes a current photo of your child.
Consider this great tip from a fellow Autism mom: She takes a full body picture of her child each day with her cell phone. That way, if her child ever wanders away, she always has a current photo readily available, including the clothes her child is wearing that day.
Summer is a great time to introduce your child to your neighbors, since so many are outdoors. Talk to them about your child, and the tendency of people with autism to wander, and ask them to notify you immediately if they see your child wander away from your yard.
Summer School, Day Care, or Camps
All caregivers must understand that a person with autism has a higher likelihood of wandering or unknowingly putting themselves in danger. Care providers will have to have their eyes on your child at all times. Look for a summer program that can assign a staff member to your child, or to a very small group of children. Prepare the staff for your child’s unique meltdown triggers, and the calming strategies that work best for your child. All babysitters should also understand why extra door locks and noise-alerting alarms are installed and are necessary in your home. Prepare to lock away all household toxins and hazards to prevent life-threatening situations.
Beaches, Water Parks and Amusement Parks
Never allow your child alone or away from a trusted adult when going to the beach or water park. Don’t hesitate to have your child wear a life preserver. Take the time to introduce your child to any staff and lifeguards at the local pool, tell them that your child has autism, explain how to communicate with your child, and discuss any behaviors the staff and lifeguards should anticipate. Make sure your child knows and understands the rules to the best of his or her abilities. Pictures or social stories can help with those rules.
Many families travel to a summer destination. Before your trip, review the destination website of any attraction or park you plan to go to. Some destinations will make special accommodations for your child with autism. They may also offer a social story to help prepare your child for a new adventure. If not, you can always make your own social story with pictures of your destination. A social story refers to stories drafted for individuals with autism to familiarize them with what to expect and social behaviors relevant to a particular environment.
Create a packing list, taking your child’s sensory needs into consideration. Where will your child be staying at? Should you bring along a sound machine to facilitate sleep? Involve your child by watching a movie or reading a story about your destination. You can also create a social story that includes pictures of the different things you’ll encounter at your destination.
Create a schedule and review it daily with your child. Forecast any issues your child may have and plan ahead, so you can hopefully bypass them. For example, if you are going to have an unavoidably long day, pack something to entertain your child. Also consider allowing your child to choose between two activities to make them feel more in control of the situation. Use a cell phone alarm clock to alert you about potty breaks and check-ins with your child.
To Grandmother’s House We Go
Create a social story or picture book for your child about their relatives you’ll be visiting. This will help your child learn who the relative is and be more comfortable around other family members, making the visit more enjoyable for both parties.
On this type of summer trip, you may be able to exert more control. Contact the relative your family is visiting in advance of your arrival and share any specific needs or environment-related requests, such as sleeping and play spaces, as well as sensitivities to smell, sound, touch, etc. Use this conversation to familiarize your relative with your child if the two have not interacted recently. This will make for a much smoother trip for everyone involved.
An airport can be a particularly difficult situation for a person with autism. With all of the sounds, lights, people, and hustle and bustle, there may be too much surrounding stimulation. If you anticipate that your family member may have a hard time in an airport, contact the Airport Authority before your scheduled flight. Find out if they offer an Autism Program to walk them through the airport, sit on a plane, or review a social story that will help prepare them for the flight. Contact TSA Cares at 1(855)787-2227 at least 72 hours in advance if you and your child will need help navigating the security lines and search areas. TSA can also assign you a Passenger Support Specialist to assist you at the airport. Remember to carry your child’s Emergency Information cards with you and a copy for any rental vehicles as well.
We at Autism Moms Are Beautiful magazine encourage you to develop your safety plan before summer begins. Having a Safety Plan in place helps prevent issues BEFORE they happen. Enjoy your summer with your family and friends, Autism Moms!