Chicago Parent Staff talks with our own Megan Feldman, MS, BCBA at AHSS:
With summer comes streets fests, hot temps, fireworks, barbecues, family parties and upended routines. It can bring challenges to any family, but for families with children with special needs, particularly autism, summer can be especially hard.
In some cases, families with children with special needs might be inclined to just avoid the challenges. But the experts at Autism Home Support Services have a few tips that might help the whole family enjoy the dog days of summer without missing on the fun and memories.
“We want families to take part in activities,” says Megan Feldman, Illinois network director of Autism Home Support Services. The key is being prepared and taking the child’s needs into account prior to planning any summer activities, she says. She offers the following tips:
Start by watching a fireworks display on YouTube. That way, a parent can gauge their child’s reaction to fireworks and figure out strategies to help.
If a parent knows a child will not enjoy the fireworks, make modifications, such using as noise reduction headphones, watching fireworks from inside the car or putting on the child’s favorite music in the background during the fireworks.
Since fireworks display gatherings can get crowded, opt for a spot to set up your family home base away from the crowds.
Since one of the primary deficits with autism is the ability to communicate appropriately, heat and crowd can make it worse, she says. Make sure your child has a way to communicate their needs in any situation, particularly when they need to take a break or needs some space.
If going to a barbecue or summer party, make sure there is food for the child to eat. Ask in advance what food will be served. If it is hot dogs and your child eats only Ball Park franks, arrived equipped with Ball Park franks so that everyone can enjoy the meal together.
Bring a backpack or bag with their favorite activities and toys to help them cope.
“Be OK with calling it a day. If things are not going well, that’s OK, you tried your best,” Feldman says.
Have a backup plan in place, particularly if it is a Fourth of July celebration and you have other family members who want to celebrate.
“It’s OK to create your own family tradition based on the family’s needs. Nowhere does it say on July 4 you have to be outside having a barbecue and watching fireworks. Yes, that is what most people do, but really the holidays are about spending quality time with the family,” she says.
Think about ways making your own traditions, such as having a movie night watching fireworks displays on TV.