Summer break — for parents, the word “break” may be inaccurate. The loss of structure and routine that accompanies those school-free months can be a challenge for any parent, but the time off can create a unique set of problems for those who have children with special needs. “I think because of the lack of structure, sometimes there are more acting out behaviors at home,” said Sharalee Stanton, an intervention specialist at Toledo charter school Bennett Venture Academy who has spent 11 years teaching in special education. “Parents struggle to deal with behaviors at home that might not be typical for their child. You’re adjusting to a whole new routine in the summer,” Stanton says.
While it’s easy to become overwhelmed, Stanton says there are activities and routines that can help parents and their children enjoy the coming vacation. Here, she offers her tips for making summer a stress-free growing experience for you and your child.
• Find educational activities where both you and your child can participate. “Find something to do, let’s say three days a week, to get you out of the house – something educational or social,” Stanton says. “Sometimes we forget the importance of the social piece with kids.” The Toledo Zoo is free every Monday with entry before noon for Lucas County residents, and the Toledo Public Library offers many programs.
• Include your kids in everyday chores at home. “It’s the perfect opportunity to get them involved in everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning and outdoor yard work,” Stanton says. “That teaches them to follow directions, teamwork and basic life skills.”
• Create a special summer routine. “You need to have some kind of bed time in the summer,” Stanton says. It can be different from the normal school routine, but “choose a new time and just stick with it as much you can in the summer.” Fluctuations in sleep times, “especially for kids with special needs,” throws off their routine, and that can make it stressful on both you and your children.
• Stay consistent with medications. Don’t disrupt your child’s medication schedule. “If you have a child with special needs who takes medication during the year, they should still take it during the summer,” Stanton says. “They need that regulation.”
• Implement the classroom behavior chart at home, too. If your child uses a behavior chart at school to track their progress and reward their successes, the same system may benefit them at home. “You can modify it for your child, or even ask the teacher if she or he has an extra copy so you can implement it at home over the summer.” Try to find something your kids enjoy doing, and use it as a reward. “My child, in the summertime, has to read something every day to earn video game time.”
• Take advantage of the opportunity to get outside. “Keep your kids active in the summertime,” Stanton says. Getting outside and being physically active can be helpful to some children. “If a child has a sensory processing disorder, that could help regulate their system,” Stanton says. “Depending on the child, That can be therapeutic. And it’s going to help them sleep better.”
• Don’t stop learning. “Don’t ever take a complete break from academics. That will avoid summer educational loss with kids,” Stanton says. “There’s a happy medium — it’s fine to ask a teacher, ‘What are some skills we can work on in the summer?’” Buy flash cards or borrow books to read from the library. “I think the most important thing to do over the summer is to read with your kids,” Stanton said.
• Get in back-to-school mode early. “Start the school routine early — at least two weeks prior to school starting,” Stanton says. “Get back into your school bedtime routine. And talking to your child, especially a special needs child, about school starting is very helpful.” If starting at a new school, ask to take a tour of the building ahead of time and, if possible, meet the teachers. By preparing them with what to expect, they can make the transition more smoothly.
• Find a camp, whether it’s special needs or not. “There are a lot of day camps in Toledo,” Stanton says. Some are pricier than others, so you should research what camp would fit your family best. “Special needs kids don’t have to go to a special needs camp —- many camps will accommodate a special needs child,” Stanton says. “It’s good for them to go to a camp with programming for everyone because then they have interaction with their ‘typical’ peers.”