Summer break lurks. I am anxious in advance.
The unstructured days of summer challenge my son and me. We crave stimulation, yet our uneven executive skills leave us either aimless and bored or agitated and disturbed. Without advanced and detailed planning, summer will be miserable.
Over past school breaks and summers, I learned how to make time pass more agreeably. I hope what brings us, a mother and child on the autism spectrum, brings you a full and happy summer.
Fun is Subjective
The key to a successful project is organization. No, I don’t mean being organized ahead of time (though it helps). The key is to let your little one organize! Do you remember when your child loved lining up toys? This is the exact same thing. Fun is subjective. Smeary blobs of paint are yucky. Tidy rows of crayons are delightful. Art can be chaotic but giving your child control over their supplies not only reduces anxiety, but it is also a fun activity itself.
Above, my son arranged his ink pads in a pleasing fashion. He similarly ordered his rubber stamps and ran off to get the label maker to identify the stations where the ink, stamps, and paper will be. His process took 45 minutes. On this day he only stamped for five minutes, but on others, we spend hours stamping.
Accommodate for Needs
Liev and I love colors and patterns. Potholder making is a favorite activity, but it has pitfalls. Looms require both a fleetness of fingers and a tedium tolerance that eludes most six-year-old boys. We tackle the loom together. To nix anxiety, we list Liev Jobs and Mama Jobs.
Clarifying who does what and when visually is essential to all our activities. Liev sorts the colors into piles, selects a pattern, hands me loops, and straightens each row I weave. I set up the loom and do the actual weaving.
This is an excellent activity for a young touretter. I wove while he hopped, chirped, and bounded. My hyperactive son shared in the process of making something and got the movement his body craves.
Anticipate and Redirect
When I told my mom that Liev and I made tie-dyed shirts, she gasped. When I told her we did it at the kitchen table instead of outdoors, she gasped even louder. We used a delightful kit with dye squeeze bottles instead of buckets. Not only was the tie-dye easy, but it was also tidy!
Imaginative and impulsive brains may make art dazzling, but eight ounces of concentrated dye in a squeeze bottle is a terrible temptation. As I shook up the pink dye, our kitty strolled by. I was seized by an almost irresistible urge to squirt her with dye. I resisted and put kitty away, covering visible carpet and furniture with blankets and plastic.
Anticipating potential catastrophes is easy because I think like my son. If you are not pre-wired with autism, imagine the biggest, most indelible mess and plan accordingly. Better yet, know what to do at the cusp of disaster: redirect.
Midway through our second shirt, Liev confessed to a compulsion to “make a fountain with the green dye.” I nodded, asked for the dye, and suggested he find a squishy ball. We set the ball on the table for “compulsive squishing.”
Sensory options like squeeze toys or something unexpected (such as making a green fountain in the sink) are great redirectors. Composure is essential as well. Emotion stokes compulsion fires and ignites meltdowns. Say, my son flipped over a jar of apple cider on the counter, I would serenely ask for towels and we clean up like it’s no big deal. Parental irritation and potential meltdown avoided. It’s neurology, not personal!
My son’s growing mind needs stimulation—but not too much! Every successful activity is a discrete dose of the right stimulation at the right time. I enjoy our special projects but they exhaust me. I cut myself liberal slack–especially since I am on the autism spectrum. I don’t always have the abundant mental reserves to introduce new activities, so we tackle new projects once a week.
Whether or not you are on the spectrum, your child will still need structure, accommodations and something enjoyable in every project. I wish you luck as you embark on your summer vacation and would love to hear what activities are successful (and why!) in your household.