The Autism Summer Survival Kit

Last week I let out the rather anxious cry of, “How am I going to survive the six weeks holiday?” As promised, here is a list some of the suggestions sent to me by the kind people out there on Twitter, Mumsnet and in the blogging community.

Whilst there is no shortage of summer activities articles in the press, online or even in the free magazine at the supermarket, these suggestions can sometimes be less appropriate for children with special needs and autism. So I asked the real experts- the parents. I’ve been doing a little research of my own and quickly started to realise the enormity of the task I’d set myself. I could easily spend the next few weeks immersed in this rather than actually getting up and doing things with the kids. I’ve given the list the rather grand title of ‘The Autism Summer Survival Kit’, which is a little ambitious in scope but will hopefully be of some use anyway. The suggestions I’ve received have certainly been useful to me. Thank you everyone for making me feel a little less panicky and more prepared for the next 42 days (or 1008 hours, if you prefer). By serendipitous chance (and a little deft editing), there are 42 suggestions:

  • Buy a trampoline
  • Visit lots of parks
  • Create opportunities for running around
  • Visit free museums and exhibits
  • Look up quick easy recipes for play dough
  • Invest in arts and crafts materials
  • Stock up on chocolate, alcohol and earplugs (thanks for that- you know who you are!)
  • Buy lots of Playdoh (I hate this stuff but will give anything a go)
  • Buy pre-made cookie dough to squish and bake.
  • Make a tent from sheets in the house
  • Invest in a paddling pool and have a hose pipe ready for hot days
  • Have defined lunch nap and transition times
  • Look for printable puzzles and such on the internet
  • Visit splashparks
  • Check out
  • Go on cycle rides with a trailer
  • Visit a local donkey sanctuary  (some offer SN riding opportunities)
  • Go walking and/or swimming each day
  • Go on bus or train journeys
  • Involve the children in housework
  • Check out the escalators and lifts in town or shopping centres
  • Visit softplay centres
  • Visit farms 
  • Create your own photo books of outings
  • Have a DVD afternoon/ special film event
  • Try camping in a secure field
  • Explore the woods
  • Eat outside during middle of day 11-3 (then they’ll think they’ve been out all day)
  • Put a tent up in the garden
  • Try Geocaching (me neither, but it looks really good)
  • Create an indoor camp using the dining room table and blankets
  • Create social stories before visiting new places
  • Start a collection
  • Involve the children in cooking
  • Learn the rules of road safety (do they still use the green cross code?)
  • Plant seeds
  • Let them use chalk on the driveway
  • Build an obstacle course with hula hoops, lawn furniture and empty boxes
  • Try face painting (I’m actually quite good at this. My tiger rocks)
  • Make a home movie

In addition to gathering these fine ideas, I have made some preparations of my own. I’ve been stock-piling cardboard ahead of the summer, with a view to using it for arty activities with the boys. I also acquired, from work, the world’s largest roll of paper (seriously, I could wallpaper my entire house with it). Do you have any idea how hard it is to steal that much paper from work? The lengths we go to for our kids! Add to that lots of pens, paints and brushes and we’re looking pretty well equipped. Perhaps I should start a craft blog. I also bought the boys one of those big doodling books for boys. The hope is that it will encourage not only pencil control and artistic ability, but also stimulate (both) boys’ imaginations. B has got stuck in already. Another purchase was Rory’s Story Cubes. We bought the ‘actions’ edition as a way to support B’s SALT target of learning more verbs.

These things are hardly day-filling activities but ten minutes spent on them is ten minutes improving concentration and ten minutes away from the computer. Having said that, both boys have learnt recently how to use PowerPoint in a basic way, and are really enjoying that. In addition, although I try to keep their sweaty palms off my phone, I have a couple of apps which are great fun, such as iMovie. The simple timer function on my phone is also a big hit with a boy obsessed with timings and numbers.

One thing I’ve been looking forward to using is the Barbara Sher’s book ‘Early Intervention Games’. I’ve had this book for a while but only started considering it once I’d learnt about proprioception and realised its significance in my son’s life. This book promises ‘Fun, Joyful Ways to Develop Social and Motor Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum or Sensory Processing Disorders’. The games and activities are divided into categories such as turn-taking, calming, proprioceptive, auditory and so on. They have enticing names such as Dump and Fill, Monkey Walking and Riding the Horse Noodles. I’ll let you know how we get on.

You’ll notice the absence of cinema, kids’ clubs or sporting activities from the list. I guess that these are amongst the things that are less accessible to our children. One day, perhaps. Our local autism and special needs groups have arranged a programme of activities throughout the summer which I’m sure we’ll get involved with.

The main challenge that lies ahead is the unstructured nature of the summer holidays. At school, visual timetables are used to help B understand and cope with the day ahead. We’ve used these to some extent at home but usually muddle by without. I think I will be using one this summer though, particularly as B has added to his vocabulary the phrases, “what are we going to do today?” and “what can I do now?” Interestingly, I’ve never heard him use the ‘B’ word (bored). There are lots of timetables available online, but I like this simple one from Netmums. The site’s summer suggestions are also worth a look at.

Some of the best advice I received was to stay patient, adaptable and enjoy the time I have with the kids. I will, I promise. I also liked the advice to involve the kids in the decision making process. I will try this too. I did ask B if he was looking forward to the summer holiday, forgetting his rather literal way of thinking. “Which way is forward?” he asked.

Thanks again for your help. Keep the suggestions coming.

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7 Responses to The Autism Summer Survival Kit

  1. Thanks for all the great ideas posted here. Hope you guys have a great summer! 🙂

  2. stephstwogirls says:

    Wow. That’s made me feel tired just reading all that list! And realise that my suggestion was maybe not so helpful….. Soz. You could always do what my parents have done the one day I asked them to look after my ASD girl… Let her stay indoors and play on the computer, iPad or watch Disney channel ALL DAY. Hell, if it works, go for it – and don’t forget to put your feet up!!

  3. Anna says:

    You may or may not have seen this website but it has some really good and very reasonably priced resources for stuff like visual timetables etc

    My ds (diagnosed with ASD and ADHD) who is 7 years old does in fact attend some clubs over the summer but they are selected carefully (one is in a nursery that he has attended since 4 years old so he know the premises and staff very well and the other is run on his current school premises where he goes to an after school club a couple of times a week) and we prepare the clubs for he best way to handle him if necessary. We tend to do a few hours only , so a morning or afternoon and only use them maybe 2-4 times in the whole holidays. The clubs can apply for funding to employ someone to look after the child 1:1 if they are given enough warning and generally we have had good experiences. If it is the first time he has been somewhere we will often stay for the whole of the first visit.

    I find the summer holidays quite nice actually, none of that worrying about how he has done in school and the “tyranny of the school run is suspended for a while.
    Good luck

  4. B's Dad says:

    Thanks, I hadn’t seen that site but you’re right, it’s good. I will look forward to having a good look through (though in reality B’s mum will probably beat me to it and fill her basket!).

  5. Lisa Taylor says:

    I’m a trainee teacher who loves reading your blog – I am learning so much from you and your experiences. You mention finding puzzle websites – have you come across yet? The mazes are incredible. Also I can recommend for mazes in the shape of animals.
    Keep up the great work!

  6. Louise says:

    I read in one book to get a ball of wool and basically create a “laser maze” around the room and after they get bored with that get them busy with the scissors, I really like the sound of this one!

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