By now, many students are enjoying summer vacation. This time of year is often synonymous with no alarm clocks, a relaxed schedule, hanging out at the pool, and no school work. However, for kids on the spectrum, summer vacation can come with anxiety, spikes in problematic behaviors, and academic and social regression. Here we will give some ideas to help with what some call “The Summer Slide”.
Students on the autism spectrum thrive on routine. For nine months out of the year, these students follow a predictable schedule. They are told when to get up, when to get dressed, when to get in the car or on the bus. Once at school, students have a fairly set schedule, without many questions as to what their days will look like. Sure, Tuesdays may be different from Monday due to a different Special class, or maybe there is an assembly, but besides those small changes, their days are fairly the same. Summertime often comes with a more relaxed schedule, which lends itself to less predictability. Summer is a time when parents often see behaviors that had all but disappeared rear their heads again. Here are a few ways to help an anxious student through the summertime uncertainty:
Make a schedule–This does not mean that your day has to be (or should be!) planned out to the minute. Giving your child a general overview of the day will be extremely helpful for most. More often than not, our students on the spectrum rely, at least to some extent, on visuals and visual cues. Depending on age and ability, this can be pictures of what will be happening during the day, a written list of the day’s activities, or simply talking through the day’s events in the morning and then reminding your child throughout the day. This is especially important if you know you are going somewhere or doing something that causes a higher level of anxiety for your child. Using language that their teachers use, such as First, Then statements can help, too!
Give some warning time before a transition- Just as important as having a schedule is letting your child know how much time they have left of something, especially when they are engaged in a highly preferred activity. Letting your child know they have five minutes left of a preferred activity may help with transitioning away from something they are engaged in. Setting a timer and then following through with the direction may be hard fought against at first, but remaining consistent will help your child know that when you say it is time to move on, that’s what they need to do.
Give your child choices- This might not mean what you think it means! Oftentimes, students on the autism spectrum are anxious because they do not have control of the situation. For instance, if your child is off schedule or is just grumpy and is having a hard time getting dressed in the morning, laying out two parent-approved outfits and letting them choose might get you farther than insisting they wear the blue shirt with red shorts. If you have two places to go and the order doesn’t matter, letting your child choose where to go first can lead to a smoother transition from home. Your child isn’t happy with the food on their plate? Giving the option of which to take a bite of first may get some of that food you just spent an hour making into their belly.
Now that we have looked at some ways that your child’s behavioral progress can remain steady over the summer, let’s think about all that academic progress they made over the year. Although we know that ASD is a social disorder, we also understand that it can impact learning. Many students with autism have to work significantly harder than their typically developing peers to retain the same information. Three months off from learning can lead to several months of academic regression (loss of skill). Here are some things you can do to help your student stay on track for the following school year:
Read, read, read!- Have your student read, read to them, and let them see you read. Most libraries offer a summer reading program, free of charge, for students and adults. Who doesn’t like to get prizes for reading? You could also start an in house book club where you read the same book your child is reading and discuss the book together. Asking your child wh- questions about what they have read or what you have read to them helps build on their comprehension skills. Don’t worry too much if your child wants to read books that seem too easy or only wants to read graphic novels. Any reading is good reading!
Check your student’s backpack- Anyone here guilty of hanging up the backpack on the last day of school and then forgetting about it (and the contents- including that last day of school lunch!) until the week before the next school year starts? If you are, you are not alone! A lot of teachers are now sending home packets of optional work that can be done throughout the summer to stay on top of skills learned over the course of the past year. Our teachers at Oakstone Academy are adept at sending home work that matches the academic ability of each student, rather than printing an “INSERT GRADE LEVEL HERE” packet and sending it home with everyone. As students get older, there may even be assigned work to complete for the next year. Checking for that now will save everyone a headache the night before school starts!
Practice writing over the summer- Have a preschool student who is just learning that what comes from the pencil has more meaning than just scribbles? Play tic-tac-toe to practice the pre-writing skills of straight and curved lines. Have a young learner who just recently learned to sound out words? Have them help write the grocery list. It may take longer, but they will have a sense of ownership and get some practice writing- and may not grumble as much when having to leave their video game to go with you to the grocery store. Older writers can write letters or emails to grandma and grandpa, keep a summer journal, or write a response about the book they are reading. If writing by hand is stressful, working on typing skills can really help. Typing.com is a great free resource to teach typing.
Without a doubt, one of the biggest deficits our students on the spectrum encounter is the social aspect of the disorder. When students are immersed in a social environment, like at Oakstone Academy, we see them make eye contact, take turns, communicate (either verbally or through a communication device), and make friends. With summer comes fewer opportunities for students to be immersed in a structured social setting, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for them to continue to practice and hone those social skills they’ve worked so hard on throughout the school year. Here are some ideas to keep your child practice important social skills over the summer:
Go to the local park or playground- While we know this can be overwhelming for some parents of children on the spectrum, especially if their student is prone to negative behaviors when in unfamiliar settings, the playground is a great place to practice a plethora of social skills. At the playground, students can practice turn-taking, waiting, sharing, having conversations, making requests, the list goes on! If you are worried that your child will have a meltdown, go when there are less people or make it a playdate with a classmate.
Go to story time at the library- Remember the library that offers a free summer reading program? It’s likely that they also offer different story times, free for families to come to. This is a great place to meet new friends and the story times are often structured so that they have the same schedule each time. They often start with a little movement activity, move on to the stories, and then some time to play at the end.
Join your school’s online parent group- Several school parent groups have social media pages where playdates are arranged. Parents of students on the spectrum and those with other special needs often report feeling isolated from other parents who don’t understand the struggles their students face. Who better to get together with than parents who get your child’s struggles? The kids can play and the parents can talk, without fear of judgement if a meltdown occurs.
Look into summer programming at your school- Many schools offer summer social activities. These programs are often more laid back than the regular school day, but still offer the structure your student thrives off of, while keeping your student engaged in social situations.
We hope these tips help you to avoid “The Summer Slide” and lead to a great summer with your student!
Listen to our Behavior Specialist Sean Hanrahan talk about summer safety tips for all children, but particularly children with autism spectrum disorder.
The Covid crisis has asked us all to grow comfortable with changes and interruptions in our lives. We as parents are undoubtedly educators everyday with our children, but we are not usually the ones in charge of academics. Yet overnight we have become the primary educators for our children. Classroom teachers may have given you a packet of work for your student. Your student may have on-line classes to attend or a schedule with mandatory attendance. Whatever manner of home education is taking place, one thing is clear- You are now a teacher.
Right now, students are at home, their parents are their teachers and that is different for them. They have school work that needs completed, or on-line classrooms to attend, or even tele-therapy, all of which requires their attention. What about all the things that help them at school? Or the various teachers that help, or give advice and support to help that student move? You don’t have that at home. It is you and your student. And their work. And their behavior. And your work. And maybe their siblings. Combine all these pulls on your time and attention and it’s no wonder parents are stressed out. Frustrated. Worn out. Ready to give up.
Maybe this new role started out fun. You were excited to become the perfect PInterest mom during Remote Learning. Maybe you were terrified. You had no idea that Google even had classrooms. Maybe you were nervous, wondering if you had what it took to be playing so many different roles in your child’s life. You may have been scared that you didn’t have what it takes to do this for weeks on end without breaks. No doubt the emotional roller coaster you and your children have been on this past month is taking its toll. You are not alone in this. All of these feelings are normal. The fact that you are feeling worn down or frustrated just shows what a good parent you are–whatever you are feeling, you care.
When we teach your children at school, we are in a bubble focused on teaching and learning,. We have supportive colleagues, materials, classmates, and so many things you just don’t have. But guess what? We sometimes feel excited, nervous, scared, worn down, frustrated, and ready to give up too. Let us share a few tips to help you feel more successful.
3 easy ways to foster success with at-home learning for all children
1) Start with a positive! Encouragement and praise are great motivators. The more specific, the better! Instead of “good job”, try “nice work staying focused on your teacher during zoom” or “good looking at your work!” Give praise and give it often. It will also make you feel good to be using positive language.
2) Build your child’s stamina. At school, we have many minor changes, transitions, and disruptions that allow students to focus on something else and then return to the task at hand. We don’t expect them to sit for hours, staring at papers or computers without some social times or movement breaks. Begin home learning tasks by asking them to do a portion of an assignment and increase expectations as stamina increases.
3) Take time to encourage engagement– Remote Learning will be a lot of long hours if all the attention is dependent on you doing work for your student. Take time to get them into the activity. Help them see a purpose or an application. If everyone treats Remote Learning as a chore that just has to get done, it will feel more challenging and less fun. Also, remind them that all of their friends are doing the same thing right now. Even if you are annoyed by a way something is being taught, don’t pass that to your child. Ask them to show you an example of this new way. Be excited to learn something new alongside your child.
3 more ideas for working with our students with autism spectrum disorder
1) Define what success will be for you– It might be sitting with attention for 10 minutes. We changed our Hour and a half expectation to an hour, and then a half hour, and then 15 minutes. Why? We realized 15 minutes of working with the student to sit and attend is going to set up much more success than powering through larger amounts of time with primarily parent-directed (or parent doing) learning. Both the student and parent won’t get much from learning this way- with a parent essentially doing the work and the student not really into the activity. Make the activity fit your students level of compliance/attention/engagement and build from there. This is a new approach for them. We never just jump right in without trying to set the student up for success when we are in the classroom. The same thing needs to be done at home.
2) Work harder on engagement/reinforcement- Job number one is to get your student looking at a screen or packet. We have taken to showing a student a favorite video to begin. Some students have liked to see their teachers or peers, but some have needed to simply look at a favorite thing. One teacher has used a model of one teaching slide followed by a slide of a favorite cartoon/book character (Pete the cat), so there is just enough time to work followed by a quick reinforcement. Give that positive reinforcement more often and be more clear with what you are praising.
3) Visuals are your friends– Use pictures to help model rules and behaviors. Make sure they are easy to reference. We have used a 3-panel sheet for what they should do when seated at the computer. When the student is squirming or trying to get up, this sheet can be shown to them. It interrupts the immediate behavior and gives them something salient to focus on as they hear your words.
- Be gentle with yourself. You are doing great. Your child’s teachers appreciate your partnership. They are rooting for you to succeed. Even if your child doesn’t show it now, they will be grateful for what you are doing and how you are helping them. They will look back at this time as one in which their parents were there for them.
- Find the joy connecting with your child. You will connect on new levels and in new ways. You will learn little things you didn’t know about your child and get new insight into how their minds work. You will get that incredible joy of seeing a lightbulb go on as they cement a new concept.
- Seek out support and coaching. Don’t isolate yourself. You may need a peer to vent to or brainstorm with. A fellow parent of a child with ASD may understand your frustrations and joys. You may want a teacher, therapist, or behavior specialist to work with YOU on how to increase your positive reinforcement or to help you create an effective visual for a specific problem. Know that the tools and strategies your child’s educators share with you are like tips that a coach gives players to execute a common goal.
Autism Immersed has coaches available for families who feel alone during Remote Learning. Whether you need help with engagement, behavior, or academic content, we have someone to help you. You are not alone.
Contact us at email@example.com for more information about coaching.
Covid-19 can’t stop immersion!
Academic and Social Immersion is a successful model for teaching children with autism spectrum disorder and their neurotypical peers. We have the hard data that shows academic growth, behavioral improvements, and increased social engagement. But what happens when you remove the structure of a supportive school environment and the immediate support of teachers? What does a school disruption (like we have never seen before) mean for our students in an immersion model? Does the whole thing fall apart?
It absolutely does not fall apart. Immersion is thriving.
How do I know? I listen to the parents, teachers, and students themselves. I can hear in the stories coming out of this remote learning environment that Academic and Social Immersion has worked its way into the hearts and minds of our community: teachers, parents, and most importantly children. Let me share a few of these stories with you.
Many of our teachers have been hosting class via the ZOOM teleconferecing website. What thrills and amazes them is how many times the class “hijacks” the session to chat and be social. They miss each other and want to be together. If this was simply a case of a friend missing a friend, they could Facetime or something more private at home. What we are seeing time and again is the WHOLE class wanting to stay in touch and connected. THIS IS IMMERSION.
Teachers have been trying to reach out and meet the needs of all students. Another student with ASD asked if the group could meet for lunch on ZOOM to just hang out. Their needs are less about help with a math problem or editing a paper and more about being connected with their group. THIS IS IMMERSION.
A mother of a second grade peer commented that most of the second grade is hanging out virtually on the Messenger app. One student needs his mom to be his voice to help him interact. Her daughter and the rest of the class are “not bothered by this because they want him included. They are already oriented to the different ways people communicate.” The mother added, “they include everyone because the important thing is that they can see and hear one another–perhaps not in person, but in a familiar way. Everyone is important to the group.” THIS IS IMMERSION
Amy, the mom of one of our kindergarten students with ASD, shared the following: “Calin usually only acknowledges friends if they play his games on his terms, which is always physical play (chasing/running/wrestling). Otherwise he has no interest in what friends are doing. He doesn’t seem to mind this, resulting in ‘no real friends’ at all, but it breaks my heart. Will there be a day he is sad that he has no friends? Will he ever ask for a play date or sleepover? Will he have a best friend like I did growing up? Is he liked? Do kids want to play him or are they annoyed by him? All these questions truly break my heart when I consider the possible answers.” These feelings are very common among the parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. In wanting the best for our children, we want them to have the kinds of friendships and social experiences that we had and cherish.
Recently, one of Calin’s classmates reached out to Calin via Facebook Messenger Kids, which many students are using to stay connected. Amy continues, “Eleanor has called Calin several times prior and I would ask him if he would like to talk to her and he would say “no thanks, I’m fine” and run away. But she kept calling, so I finally told him he HAD to talk to her. He begrudgingly sat down. They both said hello to each other with me prompting Calin to use her name. Eleanor didn’t skip a beat and immediately started playing with filters on the messenger app that turn your face into something else like a cat/tiger/hamburger/etc. He just laughed hysterically each time she changed her face and Eleanor would say “isn’t that funny, Calin?!” He would just laugh and laugh and ask her verbally for more. “
“Then she asked him to play a game with her and proceeded to start the game. I was a nervous wreck, thinking “He’s never done this before. Will he understand and be able to participate? Will she get frustrated if he doesn’t want to play and hang up? Will he be mean and run away? Will she say to me, “why won’t he talk to me?” Will this end like similar situations with the kids we see at playgrounds?” They went back and forth doing this with almost no prompting from me to wait his turn. (At the end of the game)… she finally selected the snake and lost. At first he teased her with that ‘nana nana boo boo’ that we all know. Nervously, I asked him to be nice and tell her good game, so he quickly shouted “good game!!” With a smile on her face, Eleanor immediately began another game with him. This time they both had faces like fish and had to use their mouths to catch as many fish as they could. Again he interacted successfully the entire time. There were moments throughout that he would say “all done, no more talk” and push the phone in my direction. I would start to say something about politely saying goodbye to his friend, but Eleanor would just switch it up and catch his eye with a new game or funny face, and he would be sucked right back in laughing and playing with her again. Eventually he said he was done and actually got up and walked away, so I had him say goodbye and I thanked Eleanor and we hung up. I was almost in tears. ”
“Eleanor showed me that Calin IS liked and his friends DO want to play with him and they will gladly play the way that they know Calin can be successful in order to spend some time with him. Truly made heart so happy and grateful for our school community. “
Calin is not the only one to benefit from this interaction. The love, patience, and understanding shown by Eleanor is a gift to Calin, but also a gift to herself. She has learned to accept and love people and to meet people where they are. Most importantly, she is being a good friend. THIS IS IMMERSION.
These trying times may be filled with separations. They may be affecting how we learn and how we work and even how we spend time together. However, the power of being part of a social group and the drive to include everyone in your community because everyone is important is going strong in our children. THIS IS IMMERSION.