Warning: Not Having a Summer Schedule May Create Extra Stress (but it’s not too late to make one!)


A Parent’s Perspective: 5 Lessons I Learned About Creating a Plan for the Summer

Last summer, I hoped for chill vibes. I did very little scheduling of playdates, camps, or additional therapies. I thought we would take things as they came and try to be more easygoing and spontaneous. But instead of feeling more rested and relaxed, I realized we were WAY more stressed out. We are the type of family that actually thrives on routine.

Not everyone likes to plan or is naturally inclined to do so. But I’m willing to bet that whatever your personality type—from free-spirited to a penciled-in planner—your child with autism needs to know what to expect.

Our kids like routine, repetition, and an overall understanding of what will happen next. Predictability makes them feel safe. I get that. Some of us adults need that, too {Ahem!}. When school lets out, our kids have wide-open schedules. Everything that has been part of their lives for the last nine months is gone. Even if we must continue working through the summer, they still need things to do to fill their days. And it’s up to you to plan it.

Don’t worry. Making a plan that will work for you and your family doesn’t have to be hard. In this blog post, you’ll have five things to consider about how to spend your time this summer.


Lesson One: Have a morning routine.

Start your day on the right foot by deciding on a morning ritual that works well for both you and your child. Whether it’s savoring a cup of coffee, working out, or indulging in some quiet reading time, identify activities that help you set a positive tone for the day ahead. Take note of your child’s morning preferences and routines, too. Do they enjoy breakfast, watching a favorite TV show, or engaging with a preferred toy? 

If you don’t have a morning routine and have never thought through good ways to start your day, here are some ideas for you:

  • Enjoying a cup of coffee or tea while reading the news
  • Going for a morning jog or walk
  • Practicing yoga or meditation
  • Listening to a favorite podcast or music playlist
  • Writing in a journal or practicing gratitude
  • Preparing a nutritious breakfast for the family
  • Taking a refreshing shower or bath
  • Doing a quick workout or stretching routine
  • Checking work emails or planning the day’s tasks
  • Having a quiet moment of reflection or prayer

Some ideas for your child, in no particular order: 

  • Eating breakfast
  • Watching cartoons
  • Going outside for a morning walk
  • Engaging in morning play or quiet activities
  • Singing songs or listening to music

When you are thinking through your ideal morning routine, consider your child’s waking patterns—do they wake up early or sleep in late—and how they transition into the day. 

We thrive on having a slow wake-up. During the school year, we rush to catch the bus. So, this summer, we will savor those slow mornings. After leisurely waking up, we take a walk. My son doesn’t love going outside, but by making it a daily routine, he is less resistant to it. We’re not out for long, just enough to get some fresh air before the sun gets too hot.

Once we’re back from our walk, I feel established for the day ahead.

Lesson Two: Enjoy summer foods

As part of your summer plan, why not make meals easy and enjoyable? Think fresh salads, grilling out, and dining out—summer food can be simple and delightful with this approach.

Summer is also a great time to encourage your child to try new foods. I know our autistic kids might be hesitant about new or novel food choices, but it can be a fun adventure if you’re up for it. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Grocery Store Exploration: During your weekly grocery trips, let your child pick out a new food to try. This can make the experience more engaging and less intimidating. Plus, won’t it be fascinating to see what they select?
  • Farmer’s Market Fun: Visit a local farmer’s market and help your child learn about different fruits and vegetables. Start with a colorful fruit or vegetable—if they don’t want to eat it, they can play with it, and gradually work up to adding it into meals.

Adding a bit of novelty to meal planning can be enjoyable for us as well as our kids. Plus, it introduces variety and excitement to your summer meals.

That said, if you need to avoid fighting with your child about food this summer, consider taking the convenient approach. For instance, let them have their favorite food every day at lunchtime. You may want to consult with your child’s BCBA to determine if this fits with their overall goals and if it does, fully embrace the simplicity of knowing what’s for lunch every day. 

Lesson Three: Choose some weekly activities…but not too many

It’s easy to fill your summer with camps and other activities. While these can be fun and have their place (check out our blog post on planning for camp), attending a camp every day can be exhausting. Choosing a few weekly activities without over-committing leaves you with a nice balance of events for the summer. 

Here are some of the weekly activities we’ve found worked really well for us:

Swim lessons. 

Most kids love the water, and if you have access to a pool or lake during the summer, it’s worth investing in swim lessons. Even if they don’t like to swim, it is an important safety skill to learn. Many cities have adaptive swim lessons for kids with special needs. My son loves the water and we found a private lesson teacher who can give him one-on-one instruction. Having a weekly swim lesson is something he looks forward to, and it helps me to gauge his swimming skills and decide on additional pool trips throughout the week. Plus, swimming is not only fun but also tires kids out, making it a great weekly activity.

Library Trips.

Many local libraries have summer reading programs. These programs can be a great reason to visit the library, but you don’t have to be all-in on the competition. Read a few books, and earn a prize or two. We enjoy going to the library for the experience and bringing home books to read throughout the week. Library trips are a favorite, and they also give me a reason to sit down and read with my son during the season when he’s not in school. 

Quiet Times. 

After lunch, we take a quiet time to read and rest. It’s an excellent way to take a midday break around 1 or 2 o’clock. Sitting in a cool, dark room to read books from the library to take a short nap helps us recharge. Summer days are long, and for mom and dad to make it through to bedtime, an afternoon siesta for them can be very beneficial. 

Lesson Four: Prepare for going on vacation

Vacations can be unpredictable, which can be challenging for children with autism. While you can structure your time at home during the summer, planning a trip introduces new activities, environments, and foods, often without a clear order or schedule. Though vacations are meant to be fun, the spontaneity and differences can be overwhelming for some kids.

To ensure your trip goes smoothly, here are some tips:

  • Set Expectations – Talk about where you are going, how long you’ll be there, and what activities you’ll do. Setting these expectations can help alleviate some of your child’s anxieties.
  • Pack Wisely – Bring noise-canceling headphones if you expect a loud environment. If typical food options won’t be available, pack groceries or snacks your child likes. Don’t forget to include your child’s comfort items, like favorite toys or blankets, to help them feel secure.

By preparing in advance, you can help your child enjoy the vacation and make it a positive experience for the whole family. 

Lesson Five: Increase the frequency of therapy

Summertime is an excellent opportunity to increase therapy sessions or even enroll in an intensive program. With more time available, you can invest in your child’s development. Many centers offer programs focused on specific skill development, such as intensive physical therapy or handwriting camps. ABA therapy is also a fantastic option for the summer.

If your child is already in ABA, consider increasing their therapy hours. Meet with your child’s BCBA to set specific summer goals. Work on these goals both inside and outside of therapy sessions. 

You can also request to do ABA sessions out in the community. For example, we bring our ABA therapists to the grocery store to practice not stimming in the produce section. We also take them with us to the library, so I know how to handle unexpected behaviors in public.

If your child is struggling with something, use the summer to address it. Focus on one or two areas, rather than trying to tackle a long list. Make these areas your summer project, and involve a therapist to guide you along the way. ABA Connect is always available to help. 

Avoid Summer Stress with a Good Plan

Creating a summertime schedule may help your child maintain their sense of calm and regulation while also helping your overall well-being. Remember, not every second of their day needs to be planned out. Think through your schedule a bit, get some input from your child, and communicate your plans to them. This way, everyone will have clear expectations, and you can spend more time enjoying the summer rather than feeling stressed out and reactive.

You could wing it. But I propose you plan for it. A little preparation can go a long way in ensuring a smooth and enjoyable summer for everyone. 

So, what are your summer plans?

Please share your ideas in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you, and so would fellow parents of kids with autism. If you found this post helpful, please feel free to like, share, and follow us for more insightful content on autism and ABA therapy.

If a positive, play-based approach to ABA appeals to you, we invite you to reach out to ABA Connect. The friendly team at ABA Connect is always ready to help answer your questions.

Please keep in mind that while I am a consultant writing on behalf of ABA Connect, my child is not a current client. The views and experiences shared in this blog post are entirely from a parent’s perspective. My goal is to provide informative content and insights based on my personal experiences, as well as interviews conducted with the staff at ABA Connect.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *