The summer holidays are here and, of course, many of us are getting ready to have some fun, relax and meet lots of interesting people. However, for families with children with autism, summer can be a particularly challenging time. Keeping children on the spectrum busy and entertained during the holidays can be exhausting, expensive and stressful. As one mother said to me: “I wish my son’s school would work all year around without any holidays”. So, how can you make your holiday less stressful and more enjoyable? And what is an easy way for you to make the most of your time together and keep your child on the spectrum learning and further developing their skills? Here are my five tips for an AUTISM-FRIENDLY SUMMER.
- Nature is the best therapist
Nature is a great healer for all of us but especially for children with autism who have many sensory issues. Spending more time in nature and getting away from the noises, smells and perhaps even electro-magnetic pollution of every day life, could be very calming and relaxing for your child. Leave all your electronic gadgets behind and just enjoy the real world! Stimulate your child’s curiosity and draw their attention to different plants, insects and birds. You may discover your child likes to draw or play with sticks or maybe create something with the flowers. All these activities improve sleep and normalise the day-night rhythm of hormones and, therefore, enhance overall health and behaviour.
- Increase your child’s amount of “Vitamin G”
Allow your child to walk bare foot in the garden and along the beach as much as possible. Grounding is the best anti-oxidant to neutralise any free radicals in the body. If your child is not ready to walk with bare feet, they can begin by wearing socks. Grounding reduces stress, provides great support for the immune system and restores energy levels.
- Experience new activities
The holidays are a great opportunity to explore what other possible activities your child may really enjoy doing. For example, you could try introducing them to different sports. Maybe you never had the chance to see if your little one likes horse-riding or even “horse-sitting”, which is more acceptable for some children with autism, at least to start with. Or, perhaps you never had the opportunity to try taking them to an art, music or drama class. Now is the perfect time to try just that and to see if your child enjoys themselves. It is very important to find an activity your child likes, as hobbies are definitely very therapeutic on many different levels.
- Water therapy
Summer is the perfect time to enjoy water in whatever form and amount your child accepts. Even if it’s a quick dip in an inflatable pool or a simple paddle in the sea. Please keep in mind that I am not talking about a swimming pool with chlorinated water, but real, fresh water from a natural source. You could even let your child play under the warm rain or give them buckets to collect water that they can later splash about in. Water can be a sensational sensory integration experience and releases stress and tension.
- Teach your child how to cook
Of course, summer is a great moment to have some fun and quality time in the kitchen and teach your child some basic, but essential, cooking skills. This is particularly beneficial because cooking addresses many important issues. When you teach your child with autism to cook, you also address their sensory issues, motor skill, ability to follow instructions, eating habits and social skills.
Just think about it, your child may well experience certain sensory challenges when faced with the different textures, smells and colours found in the kitchen. This is important to realise and prepare for. Avoid unpleasant sensations! Simply do not use products that posess any qualities your child doesn’t like. For example, if your child dislikes slimy textures, avoid giving them fish or a peeled boiled egg. Alternatively, you could suggest using gloves, which may actually resolve this particular issue.
Motor skills are very important and often under-addressed in children with autism. By engaging your child in the different steps of food preparation, you focus on their fine motor skills on different levels. You can help your child control the pressure of a knife when they are slicing a tomato or pealing an apple. They may produce big chunks to start with, but with time the presentation will improve.
Processing information and following instructions could be difficult for your child. That is why, it is a great idea to first discuss with them what you will be making together, draw a picture for each small step and, of course, include a nice illustration of the final product. You can even find special picture recipes for people with autism. What a great idea!
You can start by cooking something your child really likes to eat. The home-made version will always be better than the ready-made processed alternative you get in the supermarket. Then, when your child is engaged in the process, you could suggest a little experiment with other ingredients and explain why they might be better and tastier. This process is hugely educational about food and will lead to gradual changes in eating habits. You can progress as slowly as you like, but very often, at a certain stage, kids actually start to be more advanced than their parents. For example, one of my clients, a 16 years old boy with autism has developed a much more advanced taste for herbs and spices then his parents. His favourite dish is different types of home-made sausage, which he loves to make and cook with his mother. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Finally, cooking and sharing a meal with other people, decorating and serving it to the family is a fantastic way to develop the social skills of your child. They communicate with you while you cook together, then explain to the others what the meal is. Of course, listening to compliments and receiving lots of positive feedback will boost your child’s self-esteem and confidence enormously.
Therefore, LEARNING HOW TO COOK IS A LIFE SKILL; a technique for developing many other important abilities. This is the way to build your child’s independence and to help them discover a practical hobby that could possibly even, one day, become a profession. However, please remember that whatever the result of this exercise, it is perfect! Even if it doesn’t look like the meal on the picture you have. During this process, you must provide your child with support, but certainly not criticism. Always keep things positive!
So, my message for you today is: YOUR SUMMER HOLIDAY CAN BE LESS STRESSFUL THAN YOU THINK! IT CAN EVEN BE VERY BENEFICIAL FOR YOU AND YOUR CHILD!
Have a great holiday!
I look forward to receiving your ever-valuable questions, comments and feedback.
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