Summer Fun! Activities and Resources for an Enjoyable, Stress-Free Season.
Updated: Mar 21
Summer is fast approaching. That means the days are getting longer, the temperature is rising, and school is almost out. Around this time, during my consultations with parents, the topic of summertime activities for children with autism comes up frequently. With that in mind, I compiled some of my favorite ideas and resources together to assist parents looking for some support as we head into this season of fun!
1. Sign-up for an Extended School Year (ESY) program
Sometimes children with autism may experience a regression in their skills due to the loss of structure and routine presented with the summer months. Many school districts have the option for an ESY program that allows for at least some continuation of services provided throughout the summer to lessen the potential regression that may occur. Check with your local school to see if your child qualifies for this service.
2. Ensure Childcare Plans are Set-up
Childcare is often necessary for parents who are not able to stay at home and care for their children during the summer months. There may be assistance available, including respite care services that can cover some of the costs. Look into your local government available services for more information. If not, make sure childcare providers have had thorough background checks with some experience working with the autism population to alleviate any potential set-backs. There are sites, including care.com that allow parents to search for caregivers that have already conducted background checks and discuss their areas of experience.
3. Try to Maintain the Structure
It’s important to try to maintain the same routine that occurs during the school year for children with autism. This may mean making similar visual schedules, maintaining the same breakfast and lunch routines, etc. Collaborate with their teachers to see if they have any worksheets that can be used during the summer months to maintain learned skills.
4. Summer Camps
There are many options when it comes to special needs summer camps. They can include dance lessons, swimming, science, etc. Some are even all-abilities / inclusive overnight camps. Parents should research these options early as they do book up fast. You should have an idea of your child’s strengths and areas of need when determining which camp may be the best fit for them; include them in the decision-making process whenever possible.
5. Family Camping
If an "away" trip to a summer camp is a bit much, a family camping trip can be a fun idea. There are many local destinations that do not require extensive travel to get to but offer a change in environment. This can be stimulating for a child with autism, so a practice run in the backyard may be a good idea to make sure this is something that they will enjoy!
6. Make a Memory Book
Take pictures during your weekly outings and activities and print them out at the end of the week. Schedule a specific day weekly to make your weekly memory book with your child. This is great to build executive functioning skills and a wonderful visual for your child of all the great weekly accomplishments!
7. Sign up for a Baseball Challenger Little League
Volunteers work one-on-one with the kids. Everyone gets a chance to bat, and no scores are kept. It’s as low-stress as Little League can possibly be and a great experience for kids, family, and friends!
8. Visit your Local Library
Reading to your child is an essential tool for broadening vocabulary. Kids with ASD benefit greatly from story time, as it teaches them the words they need in order to better communicate. The Victory Branch Library in Boise even has a sensory-enhanced story time on select days.
9. Tour a Local Farmers Market & Try Seasonal Foods Through Cooking Activities
Some Farmer’s Markets are a bit smaller or occur at less busy times, which may be more manageable if your child has sensory-related issues with crowds. Cities such as Middleton and Eagle in Idaho may be worth looking into for an event that is either smaller on a Saturday or occurs on a weekday. Selecting and bringing home different colored produce that you prepare together in the kitchen or even outside "campfire-style" can be a very fun experience, and gives you the opportunity to explain what to do step by step. The steps should be small and manageable to their skill-set, and engaging them expands their knowledge to new areas of interest.
10. Get a Zoo Pass or Visit the Aquarium
A study in 2013 (O’Haire, et. al.) indicated that time spent with animals can increase social behaviors in children with autism. Seasonal family passes or even plus-one passes (for non-family members or caregivers) are typically pretty affordable, and a day at the zoo can be fun as well as educational. Zoo Boise has a lot of educational, family-friendly events throughout the year. Aquarium Boise also is a wonderful place to visit. The Autism Society Treasure Valley will be hosting a family night there on July 17th.
11. Sign up for a Social Skills Group
Peer interaction is a big component of schools that can be lost when summer begins. It’s important to maintain social and play skills during the summer months. This can be accomplished by having your child join a social skills or play group. Facebook has local groups that share events. Local clinics also offer various social skills groups across age brackets. One of our Speech and OT Partners, Idaho Pediatric Therapy Clinic, offers year-round social groups for teens and young adults. In addition, they will provide two Social Feeding Groups this summer for ages 4-6 and 7-10. Visit their site for more information or contact them at (208) 939-3334.
12. Arts & Crafts
Some days are going to be a little too hot to go outside. Having an arts and crafts box ready full of miscellaneous tangible items will present a world of opportunity on days when you'd rather stay inside with the A/C. This box can include finger paints, watercolors, markers, glue, stickers, fabrics, rhinestones, buttons, string, etc. Pinterest is a great resource for activity ideas and you can prepare the activities in zip-lock bags ahead of time. Using a picture of the activity, you can start by providing a choice for your child of which one to do. Not only are these fun activities to do together, but wonderful keepsakes for you to cherish.
13. Science Club
Create a science club with your child. Research fun and age-appropriate activities you can do together that continue learning in an engaging way. This can include gathering different items in nature to color with, coloring on a coffee filter with marker then dipping the tip in water to see what happens, or coloring and mixing oil and water. Combining education and fun can reinforce interests in science and learning through the summer months.
14. Sensory-Friendly Activities
I collaborate with many Occupational Therapists when working with children who have autism. Often, they assist with the sensory-based needs of the individual, so that we can create a concise and individualized plan for the child. Here are some ideas for sensory-based summer activities that are fun and functional.
Sandboxes make for a wonderful sensory play. If you don’t have one, create your own sensory table or bucket with any large container (e.g., a small plastic pool, a large plastic storage bin) and fill it with sand or water. You can also include some natural elements to discover within it, like flower petals or small toys.
Ride bikes or scooters.
Go to the playground.
Build an obstacle course together in your yard or at a familiar playground.
Wash your car. Sometimes, what adults consider as chores can be fun activities for children, and running a “car wash” is at the top of the list. Adult supervision is still required.
Schedule a time to safely swim together in a pool. Swimming helps with body awareness (if you want to get technical, we call this "proprioception") and tactile input.
Play musical games. Music therapy is an essential part of special education classrooms. All children, whether on the spectrum or not, enjoy moving to background music. Encourage your children to express themselves through dance by leading them in musical games, such as Freeze Dance or Musical chairs. Speaking of music, Pivot Movement in Boise provides inclusive dance, yoga, and dance movement therapy.
Make homemade play-dough. Sites like Pinterest have multiple recipes for different types of play-dough that you can create with your child. You can also incorporate marbles or similar items into the play-dough to encourage work on fine motor skills, as well.
Run in the sprinklers. If you water your lawn in the early morning or evening hours, this is a great time to also incorporate some more water play. Run through the sprinklers, or fill up a few water balloons and show them how to play "Hot Potato."
Go on outdoor adventures. Boise and the surrounding area has a plethora of trails to hike. This is a way to get out of the house and into the sunshine, exploring trails and taking photos. Working on generalization in safe, inclusive environments is wonderful and with a variety of options of places to explore, there’s something for everybody here!
Have a wonderful summer!
-Crista Conboy (Director, Boise)