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Transitioning into Summer Time with Children with Special Needs

Special needs mom, Clinical and School Psychologist
07/15/19  2:17 PM PST

Summer, summer, summer time! We have waited a long time for the weather to get warm, for the sun to shine and for school to be over! For our kids with special needs, summer time represents another transition, and transitions (even good ones) are hard to handle. In fact, they stir anxiety and, perhaps, a ton of questions.

For me, this is the time of year begins summer camp for my 3 children. Despite the fact that it’s all fun and games, my children become anxious and meltdowns are very common right now. That is, until we have established our new routines, my children are still adjusting to a new camp begin and end time that is different from their usual school schedule, and new items to make sure they have in their bags.

So, how can we prepare our kids and help them through this time of transition?  Or better yet, how can we prepare our children for any upcoming transition, whether it be a change in who will greet your child from the bus after school, to a business trip that will leave your child with grandma for a few days? Read on!

Summer Transition Tip #1: Give Notice, But Not Too Much Notice

Children who are anxious like to “know” what’s to come. But sometimes, that “knowing” creates questions, more anxiety and even anger. With that said, when giving your child notice about an upcoming change, think about what will work better for your child – lots of notice so your child has time to process and accept, or a little bit of notice so that there isn’t too much time to process? You may decide that letting your child know about what’s to come later on in the day in the morning is more than enough. For another child, one day’s notice is needed. Assess your child’s needs and give notice in advance, but not too much in advance!

Summer Transition Tip #2: Create a Visual Schedule

By schedule I mean, create a calendar showing the upcoming transition with a countdown, especially if it’s a positively anticipated transition such as a family vacation. An upcoming pleasant trip or relative coming to visit is exciting but can also result in the experience of anxiety and agitation as there will be a change in where family members are sleeping and the daily flow of the day.

For an upcoming event where your child is nervous about the change, create a list of events, with pictures and words, that will show the series of events that will take place. For example, if grandpa is going to pick up John from school instead of Mom place a picture of grandpa and John on a piece of paper with the time and OT with Miss Samantha on the refrigerator for your child.

Summer Transition Tip #3: Take a Field Trip

In anticipation of attending a new camp following the end of the school year, or attending a new school at the beginning of the new school year, take a visit! Yes, pack a backpack with a sandwich and a drink and take a ride over to the new school or camp. Have a picnic in the field, on a bench or on the playground. Do this a few times prior to the transition to help your child begin to develop a positive association with the camp, school or whatever new place.

To take it to the next level, ask your camp director or principal if there are students and/or parents with whom you could connect and even plan for a play date prior to the start of camp or school. Your child will then have the name of at least one new friend to say hello to on the first day of camp or school. Do the same with camp counselors or teachers. Plan a visit a few days prior to the first day and stop by to say hello. Walk through the halls or fields so that the new environment is no longer all that brand new.

Change can be a frightening and unpredictable place to be when you don’t know what to expect. Using these strategies may help you and your child pass through a change with a little less anxiety and anticipation!

I want to hear from you!

Any other ideas to share about how you make your summer transitions or transitions in general work for you and your family? Please share!

 

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Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and certified School Psychologist who specializes in working with children with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Learning Disabilities, and behavioral struggles. She is also mom to three children, one with special needs. Her practice, Psychological and Education Consulting, is located in Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey.

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