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Summer Vacation Tips for Children with Autism

Updated on August 31, 2012

Summer......hooray for summer!

Nothing better than the beach!
Nothing better than the beach!

Vacations for children with Autism can be fun if they are done right!

School's Out for Summer! Don't you love that song? Doesn't it remind you of when you were little and how happy you were for June to roll around? Well, if you are a parent who has a child with Autism or children on the Autism Spectrum or any type of special need, you may prefer HELP by the Beatles, because I know many times I am screaming for HELP when school gets out!

I love having my kids home. Don't get me wrong, I also love the routine and consistency of school, but summer vacation is the perfect time for spontaneity and a time to unwind and relax. Having a child with Autism or children with Autism many times prevents this natural occurrence.

So this begs the question: How do you help autistic children? How do we get through 8+ weeks of summer vacation with little to no routine? We create one! Instead of letting the unknown rule your summer, take matters into your own hands and create a summer of fun for your whole family. So easy to say, yet so hard to do, especially if you are a working parent and time is limited.

Example of a Calendar

E.g., of a weekly calendar my son and I did together. He struggled with choosing clothes and cleaning his toy room. We would each pick days; if he did not whine he would earn a star. At the end of the week he would earn a reward if he got 10 stars.
E.g., of a weekly calendar my son and I did together. He struggled with choosing clothes and cleaning his toy room. We would each pick days; if he did not whine he would earn a star. At the end of the week he would earn a reward if he got 10 stars. | Source

Make Lists & Schedules

I am laughing to myself as I write this, because I literally fight this step every step of the way and lose every time. I am not of the list persuasion. I like to keep it all in my head. I am supermom. Ok, I am totally not and my child with Autism really does not appreciate spontaneity so, I am now a "lister". It works for all us and it's helpful. I am not a fancy person. I work full time and I have twin 7 year old children. Lists for me represent organization and with Autism (or any child for that matter) you need organization to survive.

1. Make a List for Places to Go

  • Each year I have an idea of places I want to visit with the kids during the summer. Some I will get to some I will not. But I make the list and discuss it with the kids to get their input as well.
  • From this list I am able to decide which trips are feasible and which trips are just too far out of our reach for this year.
  • Once we have decided on the places we will most likely go we put a star next to them and begin to plan out dates and times.
  • Create social stories for each place you may visit so that your child with Autism (or without) will be able to see exactly what the place looks like and what may be expected of them.

2. Create a Master Calendar

For my son with Autism, creating a calendar is extremely important. Many children on the Autism Spectrum have anxiety disorders in addition to the ASD diagnosis (you can read more about Autism and ASD's in my previous blogs) . My son is one of those kids. In recent years, his anxiety has become more and more apparent to those around him. We used to use calendars when he was small to help him understand his daily routine. With maturity and services, I have found ways to include my children in decision-making while at the same time lessening their anxiety of the unknown.

In our house we have many calendars. Because my child has ASD we always have calendars on our fridge so that he knows exactly what his day, week and month will look like. My son is 7 now and he can handle multiple calendars as well as one large busy calendar. Based on my experience, we started with daily and weekly calendars with simple pictures before graduating to multiple calendars or overly filled calendars with words. You know your child so use your best judgement. Please note that all of our calendars are hand done by the month on a dry eraser board. This allows for changes or moves that may be needed. Calendars are fluid even when we prepare to the best of our ability. I learned a long time ago to never make anything permanent on our calendar!

  • Once the places to go list is complete we begin to create our monthly master calendar. We pick our dates and put them on our calendar so that each child knows exactly when we will be going away for a few days.
  • We add things to this calendar as the summer progresses. Because of my son's anxiety and ASD, we try not to go anywhere or do anything that is not planned. We have found the more we plan the better time we have when we go places.
  • We also color code our summer calendar. I let the kids choose their colors. Visits to dad's house are one color. This was a huge help for us as the kids have gotten older. They know exactly which days they will be seeing dad, and it lessens the anxiety for them. Let me add when they were younger we used pictures to show when they would be going to their dad's house as well as when I would be going to the office, etc. Now that both children are reading, I have graduated to words and colors. Again, these are suggestions but by all means, please do what's right for you.

3. Create a Summer School Work Schedule

Summer is fun and most of us know that school work does not always equal fun. For our family, we create a schedule for school work to be completed. Typically we keep this schedule side by side with our master calendar. I do this for a few reasons. I want my children to know that I like to have fun but I also know that with fun comes responsibilities.

At the end of the school year, we all sit down and agree on a summer school schedule.

  • We do this schedule as a family and I let the kids decorate it and make it their own.
  • Each child writes down the books he or she will read during the summer break. It's a great way to involve the whole family and it takes the "work" out of school-work. It is important for my son to maintain consistency throughout the summer and by creating a schedule, we are able to keep school on the forefront all summer long.
  • We always leave one page with a few blank lines and we call it our treasure space! These lines represent the books we may discover while we are on vacation. My daughter enjoys decorating her treasure space the most as she gets VERY excited to see what she can find that is new and different. For my son, this space gives him a plan. Though the space is not filled with book titles, he knows it will be or can be and we work together throughout the summer finding books we can add to his treasure space. This allows him to be flexible which is really the single most important thing for me as a parent. This time the unknown is not scary - it's fun!

Most Importantly - Have Fun!

Planning vacations, schedules or school work takes time and patience. Involving your children can make the transitions from a busy school day to a happy summer vacation easier on the whole family. Use rewards or tokens if you need to in order to facilitate changing behaviors. Your goal is to have a successful vacation and using negotiable tactics are always a sure bet for our children with ASDs!

Not everyone with children require extra planning, but I have found that taking the time to plan with my children makes all of us MUCH happier. Depending on where your child falls on the Spectrum will dictate how successful some of these methods will be for you. I know there is no one size fits all approach, but my hope that some of these suggestions will trigger an idea that can help make your summer the best it can be!

Text Copyright © 2012 Lisa Davis

Books to Help You Create Schedules/Calendars

Activity Schedules for Children With Autism: Teaching Independent Behavior (Topics in Autism)
Activity Schedules for Children With Autism: Teaching Independent Behavior (Topics in Autism)

Activity schedules -- simple, yet revolutionary teaching tools -- enable children with autism to accomplish activities with greatly reduced adult supervision. An activity schedule is a set of pictures or words that cues a child to engage in a sequence of activities. When activity schedules are mastered, children are more self-directed and purposeful in their home, school, and leisure activities -- doing puzzles, interacting with classmates, and preparing food with minimal assistance from adults. In this book, parents and professionals will find detailed instructions and examples to help them. Activity Schedules for Children with Autism can be used successfully with young children, adolescents, and adults, rewarding them with more control over their lives.



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    • mom4autism profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thank you @klanguedoc, I appreciate the feedback and glad you think it may help. I hope she can use some of the tips or can just relate to another mother :). Thank you again!

    • klanguedoc profile image

      Kevin Languedoc 

      6 years ago from Canada

      You have provided an excellent and well researched guide for anyone who is autistic or cares for someone with autism. One of my wife's friends has an autistic child and I will pass your guide to her. Great piece.

    • mom4autism profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thank you @KDuBarry03 for commenting - I do love my kids and I am partial to helping those who may need a bit more help than others!!!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I can see you really care for and love your son. It is so great to see that you wish to give other parents of autism children some amazing tips on how to care for them more so than they do. Excellent job!

    • mom4autism profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thank you @Peggy W. I am very glad you find this useful and thank you very much for sharing. I know when my son was diagnosed, I had no idea what to do or where to look and now there are so many great ideas on the web and I am so happy to be a contributor. For me, I was the first of my friends who was having this experience and I am glad I found a place to maybe help someone else.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What an informative hub regarding planning the summer when one child or more has autism. This should be very useful to help others who may not yet have thought about how best to approach this. Voted up, useful and tweeting and sharing with my followers. Hope that your summer this year will be filled with fun times!

    • mom4autism profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      @MsDora - wow thank you! I'm very lucky to have such great kids who literally make me laugh (and cry) a lot. I am so glad you stopped by to read and comment and I hope you find my blogs useful. So many parents feel so alone because Autism is so isolating at times. I hope to change that or at least do my part to try :)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 years ago from The Caribbean

      Mom, you surely tackle the difficult topics. Your son is a blessing in many ways, but especially because your love for him causes you to research and share information which is good for all of us to know. You efforts will pay off big time.

    • mom4autism profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thank you Matt for such insightful comments! I really appreciate the feedback and glad you found it useful. I have to be creative with my son as insurance does not cover many services (which I am sure is the same for others) so I wanted to show examples of things you can do on your own. Appreciate you stopping by :)

    • mattdigiulio profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi Lisa, this is a wonderful compendium for all interested. I truly hope that others find this. You've done a great job giving creative options, in a comprehensive fashion. Voting up, useful, and bookmarking. Best, Matt D.


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