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Essential Summer Survival Kit: Optimize Fun with a Smooth Transition Back to School


School is out and summer is in full swing. While for many this is a time of relaxation and joyful spontaneity, it can be more challenging for neurodiverse children and teens who find comfort in structure and consistency. These conflicting needs can lead to an increase in internal dysregulation. What can dysregulation look like? It can range from more “zoning out” or escaping into their minds to bigger emotional responses (i.e., “meltdowns, irritability and/or lashing out) and anywhere in between. However, there are strategies you can use to meet both the need of relaxation and structure.


How to Create a Summer Routine

Creating a summer routine with a visual schedule can be effective at providing structure. The key is to keep it specific enough that it provides the predictability that neurodiverse individuals prefer and general enough so that it allows for flexibility and choice. When creating a routine, replicating the morning routine for school can also lead to a smoother transition back to school. Please see sample below:


Plan

Morning routine (i.e. wake up, dress, eat, meds)

Outdoor time

Lunch

Screen time

Free time

Dinner

Family time

Nighttime routine (i.e. bath/shower, read, bed)


Additional categories to consider:

Play with friends/social

Errands

Special Activity

Work/Volunteer

Appointment


Tips for Effectively Using this Strategy

*Create a visual schedule that consistently includes: morning routine, lunch, dinner, nighttime routine. This will inherently provides structure to the day and create a routine while allowing for change through rotation of activities in between these main points of the day.


*Create a list of activities for each of the categories above. This will help your child/teen vary the things they do during free time. Additionally, it empowers your child/teen to make choices within your expectations. For example, outdoor time may include: swinging, playing ball, bike ride, walk etc but not going to the neighborhood pool because an adult needs to be present.


*Having a list for each of the categories will also help your child/teen to fill their time and provide you a strategy for building independence when you hear “I’m bored. There is nothing to do.” This is a great opportunity to remind them its “Free time” try picking something from your list.


*The language used will need to adjust to your child/teen’s age. For example, “play with friends” for young children, and “hang out with friends” for middle/high schoolers.


*Regardless of age, your child/teen will have greater buy in if they are a part of creating the routine. If it’s a day that you plan to be home, and there are no “must dos,” ask your child which categories and in what order they would prefer. For example, "Do you want to have free time or outdoor time in the morning." If its a day that you have “must do’s (i.e., grocery store, add “errands”) at a specific time of day, then it can be helpful to ask them what they would like during the other times of day.


*Set screen time limits each day. Below are some reputable resources to help you make an informed decision about screen time limitations. If your child really enjoys screen time, and has a hard time getting off of screens, then it can be helpful to have similar screen time limits in the summer as school year.



Why is a routine helpful?

Creating a routine over the summer will help ease the transition to a naturally more structured time of year, school. If you have an established routine for morning and evening, then it reduces the number of changes that happen when school starts. For example, lets say summer is a time when kids can wake up whenever, hang out in their PJs watching tv until late morning, and have unlimited access to screens. Then, kids will need to change two routines once school begins: (1) the time they wake up and (2) their morning routine. For example, they will need to switch to waking up at a specific time, immediately getting dressed, eating breakfast, and leaving for school without screen time. This is a lot of change. If the routine over the summer is consistent with school, but just with a later wake up time, then its only one adjustment once school starts: (1) the time they wake up. The morning routine would be the same. Transitions and change can be challenging for neurodiverse children/teens and this is one strategy that can help ease the transition between summer break and school. Additionally, this strategy teaches your child to develop independence with hygiene and healthy sleep habits while also teaching them planning and time management, which are crucial life skills.


Worried about the upcoming school year?

Are you questioning a diagnosis or feel like you need a deeper understanding of your child’s strengths and opportunities for growth? Summer is also a great time to schedule a psychoeducational evaluation. This creates the opportunity to meet with the school at the start of the year with detailed information about how your child learns best so the school can best support your child that school year. For recommendations for local psychoeducational evaluators with expertise in neurodiversity please refer to the Lowcountry Neurodiverse Network's Diagnosis information and resources.


I hope this strategy allows you and your family to experience a smooth summer that feels comfortable and fun to everyone in your family!


- Katie

Katie is a certified, licensed speech, language pathologist whose expertise is social strategies, self-regulation and executive functioning. She has a private practice in downtown Charleston that focuses on supporting neurodiverse kids/teens on developing social connections & strategies, self awareness and self-confidence in a group setting using an inclusive, strength based, skill building approach.


Katie Hodgson, M.Ed, MA, CCC-SLP (she/her)













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