Search This Site


Aspergers Children and Summer Vacation: 25 Tips for Parents

You're trying to find things for your child to do all summer that are safe, entertaining, and maybe if you're lucky, have some educational value. If you're like most moms and dads, you're trying to hold down a job at the same time. Now, add “Aspergers” (high functioning autism) to the equation and things have just gotten exponentially more complicated.

Your Aspergers youngster needs structure and routine during the summer, and you're at a loss to think of activities that can give it to them. You fear a summer full of meltdowns and regression. What can you do?

Not to worry, the list below will include plenty of tips for ensuring a successful summer for both you and your youngster with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism:

1. Ask your Aspergers youngster about what he plans or expects to happen when out of school or on vacation. Doing so will help clear up any misconceptions about the things you either agree on or disagree about.

2. Avoid springing things on your Aspergers youngster. It causes confusion and distress. There go those insecurity-control issues again. Prepare him for changes as far in advance as possible.

3. Bring a Discman or MP3 player so he can listen to music on the plane or in the car or a favorite toy – and definitely favorite foods. Try to imagine possible problems that might come up and how you will solve them—and what materials you will need to solve them. Take books, video players or anything else you think will help for distraction during those difficult moments. If you're going on a long car trip, you might want to look up some car games to play, such as trying to spot letters on license plates, 20 questions, or other games one can play in the car to pass the time and keep your youngster occupied.

4. Discuss fear of the unknown or uncontrolled event with your quiet Aspergers youngster. Aspergers kids don’t like the unexpected and they really need the security of knowing when, where, how, and why. They are generally very comfortable in their usual surroundings (school, home, friend’s house), but may become anxious about traveling, staying in hotels or camping “in the wild!”

5. Do not try “breaking habits” while on vacation. I know a mother who tried to break her Aspergers son’s annoying habit of drumming his feet and fingers on just about everything. She reasoned that since she would be constantly with the boy while on a family trip to the beach, she could break him of the habit by catching him and threatening dire consequences if he didn’t stop. I later learned that the entire trip was a disaster. Instead of focusing on family fun and relaxation, it became a constant battle of “who was in control!”

6. Don't be alarmed if your youngster doesn't want to do much during the summer. But by the same token, do try to plan some regular activities and outings so that they are still engaged with the world. Find areas of interest. If your youngster is interested in movies, see if there is a movie-making class or club that meets nearby; if they are into reading, then find a book club. Most towns have town-sponsored recreation programs that are offered during the summer at low cost, and this can be a great place to start. There is everything from sports to arts and crafts and things in between. Some towns even have programs specifically for special needs children.

7. Don't try to fit your youngster into a mold of what they "should" want, or what you think should be typical for their age; pay attention to what their actual needs and wants are to ensure a more successful vacation.

8. Give your Aspie as much control about “what happens” during his vacation and out-of-school time as possible. Remember, all Aspergers children have control issues. If they feel out of control, they feel threatened.

9. Help your Aspergers adolescent find work. A part-time job is a rewarding way for an adolescent to spend some of his summer. Few things work better in building a sense of maturity, independence, and personal competence. The structure a job affords is a plus for children with Aspergers, and the extra spending money is, of course, an added bonus. While some Aspergers teens are capable of finding a job for themselves, most need guidance and encouragement. Start by defining work goals for your youngster, such as earning money or learning a new skill. Discuss the right types of jobs, based on his skills, organizational ability, and attention capability. Then help him choose where to apply. It doesn't hurt to work on interview skills; role-play business owners and managers with him. Your encouragement and support may be just what your adolescent needs to follow through on a job search.

10. If you can, try to choose the least-busy times to do any given activity. Do things early or late in the day when most individuals haven't left yet or have already gone home. If a summer vacation can wait until fall or be taken in early spring, then by all means do it at those times. If you follow these tips, for any vacation you might consider, your Aspergers youngster will be in a better state of mind to be able to enjoy him or herself, and your chances of a peaceful vacation will increase.

11. If you’re striving for an educational experience, it had better be “fun” and not boring. If not, then try to use personal methods such as search and name games to help make them fun and different.

12. Keep a calendar (but leave some blank spaces). Even during the languorous summer months, Aspergers kids need structure to feel secure and have a sense of what to expect. A simple calendar of events lets your youngster see what's coming. Fill in ahead of time a mix of major summer activities, such as the family vacation or trips to visit relatives, and casual recreational activities, such as a weekend trip to the zoo or museum. You may also want to prearrange and mark down play dates. Of course, summer should still be a time to relax, so try not to over schedule. One planned event a weekend is great, three or four can feel rushed and hectic. Leave room for down time every day, when your youngster can do whatever he wants — even nothing at all. And make time at the end of the day for the family to relax, read, and talk.

13. Loosen the reins, but stay on course. The summer months cry out for flexibility. That being said, you don't want to relinquish basic family rules and routines. It's tempting to let children stay up later in summer, and a bit of that is OK. But remember that even a little sleep deprivation can lead to irritability and meltdowns at any time of year. Try to maintain basic bedtime habits. Stick to scheduled chores, too, as well as other established behaviors. A whole day in front of the TV should remain taboo even during summer months.

14. Maybe you don't have the time or money for a vacation, or you don't want the stress of dealing with one. If you're sticking around the house this summer, don't despair, there are lots of things you can do around the house to keep your little one engaged.

15. Money is not a requirement for fun. Take your youngster to a local pool (but try to go during the off hours when there won't be as many individuals), or hold pool parties in your yard if you have your own pool, and increase your youngster's socialization skills at the same time. Look on your town calendar to see if there are any free concerts in parks, which is often the case. Some towns have outdoor movie nights in parks as well, or a local library might have them. Use the library or a cheap Netflix subscription to rent movies for the family to watch. Also, summer is a great time for festivals; if your youngster can handle the crowds and sensory stimulation, of course. Festivals do not usually cost anything to get into, and provide lots of entertainment and visual stimulation. Another idea is to go to a craft store or a store that recycles old materials and sells them for craft projects, and have an arts and crafts day.

16. One of the hardest parts for Aspergers children in summertime is the change in routine. Even if they don't particularly like school, the routine of the school day (getting up at a certain time, going to classes which are usually in the same order, coming home and doing homework, etc.) is comforting to them. They might be at a loss for what to do with their time when summer comes, and they may feel lost and adrift with no routine to anchor them. This is normal for children with Aspergers. Try to create a loose routine for your Aspergers youngster if you can. Post it on the wall as a visual reminder. Such a schedule could go something like this: "Breakfast, morning activity, lunch, afternoon activity, TV/video game period (if allowed), dinner, pre-bedtime activities. You can create a list of activities that the youngster can choose from and post those as well so that the youngster has some idea of what could or might happen, or you could decide ahead of time and post them for the week. Things like going to the park, going to the library, arts and crafts, some kind of sports if your youngster is interested, baking, reading, whatever you can come up with can be on the list, and you can rotate activities. In some ways, you could make it like a loosely structured, non-academic home school, which might make your youngster feel more comfortable and reduce behavior problems that might stem from anxiety over loss of routine.

17. Play after work. During the school year, you set a regular study time for your Aspergers youngster because it helps him get his work done. In the same way, scheduled playtimes in summer — for children and moms and dads together — will insure fun as well as family bonding. So play catch in the backyard, take a bike ride, or go out for ice cream. These relaxed times provide just the change of pace you and your youngster need to de-stress after nine months of school, or even a day's work.

18. Since most children with Aspergers are visual learners and they have a need to know what is going to happen ahead of time, social stories work well. To make a social story, you simply need to make or find pictures of the places you will be going to do and the things you will be doing and write out a story that illustrates what your daily activities will be like. The story should give the details of the daily routine so that your youngster can plan ahead and have a sense of what to expect. Talk about how you are going to get to your vacation spot, who will be coming with you, and what some of the activities will be. Make sure to think of the details when planning your trip.

19. Some Aspergers children are sensitive to the heat, and will be uncomfortable and irritable during the day when the sun is at its peak. If this is a problem, try to choose events where you can go in the evening, or go out on cloudy days.

20. Some structure during summer vacation is important. But so is unstructured downtime. Most Aspergers kids can be amazingly creative in finding ways to have fun. With your encouragement, the freedom to do nothing opens up countless possibilities to do anything. Moms and dads needn't be constant entertainment directors in the summer. It may be more helpful to express confidence in your youngster's ability to be creative and inventive — and then let him. So go ahead and schedule some activities, then get out of the way and let your youngster do what comes naturally.

21. There is nothing more stressful to a youngster with Aspergers than not knowing what is going to happen. For example, if you're at a beach, maybe schedule swimming time in the morning, a walk on the boardwalk at lunch, time to see nearby attractions or play on any available playgrounds in the afternoon… try to have the day loosely planned out a day ahead of time or at least in the morning of that day so your youngster knows what to expect. Most individuals enjoy the feeling of unstructured free time, but Aspergers children are so worried about what might happen next, and how they will cope with it, that they need to have an idea of what is happening. The schedule can be modified to some degree if you need to, but giving your youngster some advance notice of this (or planning a favored activity for after the change of plans) will have the best results. Be aware that individuals will always talk, and most individuals don't know what they're talking about.

22. Think very carefully about where you want to go. You want a place that will be Aspergers friendly. For many individuals, this means a place that is not too loud or does not offend other sensory quirks of your youngster. For example, if your kid has tactile issues with sand, you might not want to go to the beach. If they're scared of large animals, you don't want to go to the circus, for example. Choose a place that matches your youngster's interests and ability levels.

23. Use community resources. Take advantage of the summer recreational and educational opportunities that most towns offer. Find a youth sports league, or sign up for day camp. Many local recreation centers offer swimming, gymnastics, even computer classes. Encourage your artistic youngster to join a kid's theater group or sign up for community art or jewelry-making courses. In addition, visit local zoos and museums, and find out where and when summer festivals are scheduled in your area. Don't forget to add selected activities to your calendar. When you plan ahead and write it down, you're more likely to do it.

24. Whatever keeps your Aspergers kid happy at home will probably work when he is away from home. If hand-held games are acceptable distractions, then by all means take them with you.

25. You want to make sure that you very carefully choose the place that you will be staying. Whether you're staying at a hotel, a camp site, a motel, or renting a house, there are different issues to consider. If your youngster has a lot of food issues and sensitivities, you might want to choose a place where you'll have your own kitchen, so you can make your own food. This could include hotel rooms with a small kitchen area, or a rented house with kitchen facilities. If noise is a factor, you want to make sure you're not in a crowded hotel with thin walls where you can hear your neighbors fighting and the ice machine, or elevator, makes noise all night. On the other hand, if your youngster hates bugs and getting dirty, camping might not be such a good choice.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns


Anonymous said...

I love your emails! They make me feel like I am not alone! Thanks for all your ideas!


As-Is Chronicles of the Coagulated Mom said...

Thank you so much for articulating so clearly how to have a happy life with an ASPIE.

For years we had felt we were held hostage to the behaviors. You are giving us hope that we can navigate our way to a happy place.

I no longer feel SO alone!

Sheri F.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a young adult (post high school) that they can offer some advice on career/launching for independence?

Anonymous said...

These are all great ideas, however, I have an unrealistic child who thinks that if I enroll him in a camp that the kids in our neighborhood are going to be waiting around home to play with him and he will miss out on all the fun. Well, that's not unusually how it works because all of the other parents enroll their own kids into camps and they won't be home anyway to play with my child. Try explaining that to him. In addition to the fact that if left to his own choices he would much rather sit in his house and play his DS video games endlessly. We enforce him to venture out and try new things but also provide safe boundaries and notify the staff of our concerns. At some point I believe you need to push your child some and not let your life become so beholden to them and feel trapped.

Magnificent Minds said...

The summer is a great time to think about developing social skills! We offer summer camp tailor made for children with Aspergers and other social delays. We target various skills, and expand personal interests too.

Anonymous said...

Our son is 13 and first showed difficulty with some subjects in second grade as well as some problems interacting with others. He was tested by our school district in early 2009 with nothing particularly significant other than motor skills, etc. We had him tested by a private practice psychologist who found some areas where he was very much out of the norms and diagnosed our son as non-hyperactive ADD. We attended counseling sessions which did not seem to be worthwhile so earlier this year we decided to see someone else. Our son's MD suggested a therapist. After a few sessions and reviewing prior testing reports, she diagnoses our son as having Asperger's.

I've read many of the stories here and they are many are quite different, which is understandable. Our son might just have a mild form since nothing seems extreme. His grades are good but only with some extreme studying at home and close supervision to make sure homework is usually at 100%. He's a bit clumsy, but our family isn't a "sports family" and that might have something to do with that. He does seem to have difficulty understanding humor and does not do well in trying to be funny himself much of the time.

The therapist and our son's MD suggested that he be tested at Children's in Oakland. The referral was initiated in mid-April to Mental Health and that department then referred it to the Child Development Department about three weeks ago. I left a message with that department two weeks ago and they just called back today. They informed me that they are not contracted with our insurance company (United Health) and that their waiting time for new patients is over one year!

I'd appreciate suggestions on where to go from here. We do not want to wait a year or more. We can pretty much go anywhere in northern California.


C said...

Dear Anonymous California -

Our son is 12 and was diagnosed with aspergers about 3? years ago - prior to that it was ADHD ... our son is a high performing aspergers kid which sounds very similar to your son. Ours gets good grades, but only with significant parental support and involvement - in some regards its getting better, but its a constant uphill climb. I would suggest contacting your health insurance company to get a list of providers and start going down the list. Unfortunately,all the good ones will likely have some sort of waiting list... I think a year is too long, so maybe you could find one that's 2 months instead. Also, your sons therapist or pediatrician might have additional suggestions for who to go to. Also, if school is exceptionally difficult he might need (or you might want) him to have an IEP - (that's what its called in PA) which sets specific goals and helps deal with any learning difficulties that your son may have - he can also get one-on-one help in the classroom or they might break out in small groups).

Best of luck

Anonymous said...

Really great article with very interesting information. You might want to follow up to this topic!?! 2012

Gymnastics for Toddlers said...

We are just lucky that our two daughters both love attending gymnastics classes every summer.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...