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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

5 Summer Goals For Kids With Special Needs

Summer vacation began at 11:55am on a Thursday, and the first summer meltdown started at 12:11pm.  For my family, and for many other families with special needs, there’s nothing simple or carefree about summer vacation.  We have to keep our eyes on the prize – actually, we have 5 prizes, the summer goals that we work on every day of our so-called “vacation.”

1. Retain skills

For me, the scariest part of summer vacation is the possibility of seeing my son lose skills.  It has happened many times in the past, and prevention isn’t easy.  But re-learning lost skills is much more difficult than prevention!

Every day, I give my son assignments in math review, reading and writing.  He also keeps a summer diary to boost his memory skills, and we make a summer photo book together.  Our family field trips are centered on fitness (because exercise boosts cognitive skills), science and social studies.  He returns to school in the fall with an active and curious mindset, ready to learn.

2. Set-up for positive behavior

Unstructured time often leads to destructive behaviors in my house. A few days into summer vacation, my 8 year old asked me to help him make a chore chart. We brainstormed ideas for chores that were manageable for him.  In addition to the chore chart, we made a birdwatching chart, we have time set aside for reading every day and outdoor time with neighborhood friends is strongly encouraged.  These alternatives are always available when I need to re-direct behaviors.

3. Do something that you never thought you’d do

The best part of summer vacation is a sense of adventure.  It’s the perfect time to face fears and learn something new about yourself.

  • Afraid of heights? Visit a high ropes course with zip lines.
  • Tactile defensiveness? Go fishing. A trout farm can provide you with a rod and bait.
  • Sensitive to noise?  Spend a half hour at a carnival.  Bring ear plugs.
  • Performance anxiety? Participate in a poetry slam or open mic night.
  • No artistic talent? Sign up for a two hour art class and bring home your own painting.

4. Minimize sibling conflict

Togetherness is not always blissful.  There are several strategies to reduce fighting, tattling and bickering.

  • One-on-one time with each parent
  • Separate activities – while one child is at day camp or gymnastics, another child can receive undivided attention
  • Individual goals/chore charts – each child has something different to work on
  • Family activities – build the group identity by doing something fun or productive together, such as a board game or yard work
  • Swap with another family – little kids go to one house while big kids go to another house

5. Have lots of fun

Every day I promise something fun for my family. On the first day of summer vacation we played with some friends.  The next day it was a field trip to a science museum.  With my younger son’s leg in a cast, I’ve learned to ask beforehand if a wheelchair is available for visitors at the places we frequent.  Most visitor attractions, such as museums, zoos, tours, theme parks and library programs, also offer a braille guide and sign language interpretation if arrangements are made in advance.  Some beaches now have beach wheels available for guests with mobility impairments, too.

Fun activities do not have to be expensive or complicated. A visit to the library, picking strawberries, making lemonade from scratch, a family swim and a walk around the farmer’s market can be rotated weekly.  Do things your way – after all, it’s your time to shine!

What are your goals this summer?

Karen Wang

Written on July 13, 2015 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"