Unlocking a Wonderful Summer: Essential Tips to Empower Children with Special Needs Through Transitions!

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph. D.

What are your favorite summer memories? Maybe they involve spending time with friends or a memorable family vacation. As a child, you likely longed for those summer months when you could sit back and relax. Or at least slow down a bit.

Summer can be a different experience for many children with special needs. The many transitions are sometimes stressful and overwhelming. If this describes your child, take heart. You can help and support your child during these transitions to help them relish in a wonderful summer.

Transitioning From School to Summer

The first significant transition many children encounter is the change from a school schedule to a summer schedule. Children with special needs often rely heavily on predictability and routine. As the school year ends, so does much of the predictability in their daily schedule. This transition can cause stress and anxiety for children who thrive on routine and may even lead to behavioral challenges.

Help your child through this transition by making a plan now. Make summer plans and share those plans with your child. Plan what a typical summer day will look like, creating as much structure as possible. As summer begins, remind your child of the schedule by posting it on the fridge or another frequently visited part of the house. Each day, talk with your child about what to expect in the coming day.

Transitioning from One Summer Activity to Another

One of the challenges of summer is that it is notoriously hard to make routine. Some children may be in summer school only for part of the summer. Some children may attend camps, but many of those are held for only a week at a time. Even if children attend the same camp for most of the summer, staff and participants may change periodically.

Help your child adjust to these transitions by being open and forthcoming about the challenges. As they start a new camp, emphasize that it’s temporary. Create a schedule for your child, share it with them, and do your best to stick to it. As the end of an activity nears, remind your child that their schedule will change again and be open about what will happen when it does.

Transitioning from Summer Back to School

Thankfully, this transition is much more predictable than many other summer transitions. Once you know where
your child will attend school in the fall, you’ll see the start date and the school calendar. Talk with your child about this upcoming change, mark it on family calendars, and engage them in all back- to-school preparations. Then, when able, visit the school to let your child meet their teacher(s), see the school, and, if appropriate, learn their way around the campus. The last step is essential for middle or high school students who may be changing classes multiple times per day.

Transitions are tough. Even good transitions, like getting a summer break, can bring about stress and anxiety that can lead to challenging behaviors. When your child struggles to adjust to changes, it may also take a toll on other family members. Planning for each transition, creating a schedule, sticking to it, and being patient with everyone through the transition will help to ease this time and help you all to enjoy the summer ahead!


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