“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” Ella Fitzgerald. Though I love Ella, I don’t think she understood summertime in an autism household. Like many kids on the spectrum, Boo loves his routine, he loves going to school. He would go to school 365 days a year if he could. Few things make him happier than seeing the big yellow bus pull up at our curb. Yet, there are those pesky summers to deal with. So, how does one cope? Often through trial and error.
The summer Boo was 5 I had him scheduled in every activity known to man, and some only to women. He had music therapy, horseback riding, swimming, friendship groups, the list went on and on. For a while he was happy and engaged, then he began to wear out. He was less eager to set out every day. By August, both he and I were flat out exhausted. I had to remind himself that he was only 5 years old and that that he was a child first and on the spectrum second. All kids need down time, even kids that prefer to have their days highly structured.
So, what does this summer look like? Well, it is still taking shape. His last day of school is June 9. He has the following week off, but his PCAs that are eager to hang out with him. He turns 15 on June 18, and ESY (extended school year) begins the following Monday and runs for 4 weeks, 5 hours a day. ESY is less intense than the regular school year. IEP goals are worked on but there is time for fun things, too. Students at his school go swimming, on field trips, spend lots of time outdoors and generally have a lot of fun. After he gets home in the afternoons, his PCAs will take him out into the community. In July, he has softball practice for Special Olympics one or two evenings a week. The first week in August, he goes to Camp Hand in Hand, a wonderful sleep away camp, designed for kids and teens on the spectrum. He went last summer for the first time and had the time of his life. I had never been away from him for more than a day in 14 years, but he took his counselor’s hand and walked away with her without a backward glance. During the week he showed no signs of homesickness at all. He swam, boated (which he loved) rode horses and adaptive bicycles, walked for miles, had cookouts, listened to lots of music and in general, had a blast. Without a doubt, it was the high point of his summer. I am eager for him to have a repeat experience this year. After camp, we still have about a month before the start of school. During this time, I will follow his lead. If he wants to go out, we will go out. If he wants to hang out on his swing and listen to his ipod, then we can do that. He adores his PCAs and they give him a break from being stuck with mom all the time. He loves to walk to Jimmy Johns, Subway and the local ice cream shop. He also just loves to go for walks and see what is going on in his world. I completely understand this. I have been a marathon runner since the age of 14. I am not terribly fast, but I just love the feeling of movement and being out and about, running the streets and the trails, watching flowers come up, seeing the sun rise and set,depending on the time of day that I am out. Ravi does not seem interested in running, but he can easily walk 8-10 miles in an afternoon. For both of us, running and walking seems to help our ever present wanderlust.
So, how do you keep your sanity during the summer? Let’s face it, though we love them to pieces, our kids are a lot of work and need 24/7 supervision. Ravi must be watched like a hawk or he will just wander off. I would advise some structure, for the sake of all concerned. If your child has ESY or some sort of class or social group, that is great. See if there are local camps or Special Olympics in your area. If you need an extra pair of hands, ask around at your church or synagogue; often you may find some very responsible late high school or early college teens that would be more than happy to help out. If you have PCA services, by all means, use them. Summers should be about creating good memories; lazy morning sleeping in or lounging with mom, cool evening where your child can chase fireflies. Though I often feel that everything should be a learning opportunity, this is not what Ravi wants. He wants to be a teen. He wants to sleep late, eat me out of house and home and lounge around. He also likes to be out and about, but he, like all of us, needs his down time.
I am curious to hear what activities other people do during the summer. I have both over scheduled and under scheduled my child, with interesting results. This summer I am going to let him take the lead. There will be some constants in the schedule, so he knows what to expect, but there will also be plenty of time for him just to be a teen. Everyone deserves that, whether they are on the spectrum or not.