During the summers, after Liam started school, we had trouble keeping him “scheduled” enough to enjoy his summer. I have written before that Liam does not enjoy too much “down time.” Too much free time actually causes him to feel anxious – he doesn’t know what to do; time seems to go on forever; he’s bored.
We started to look for “camps” he could attend in the summer, that would keep him busy, but in an enjoyable way. We also had to find somewhere for he and his brother to be during the summers when I started to work as an administrator/year-round.
We had to be careful in which camps we enrolled him. I can remember three different kinds of camps that we tried, that for one reason or another, just didn’t work out for him.
We tried his daycare’s summer program before he started “real” school. It was an okay experience, but extremely crowded. Liam was a little “left behind” that summer, due to there being so many kids to keep track of. When he didn’t “comply,” he was removed from situations. He also had a TSS and a speech and language therapist that came out (to pull him for therapy) throughout the week. He was really disconnected from the kids that year.
One summer, we had him come along with me to a summer camp at a private school that I worked at. It was always really fun and enriching for the kids with whom I worked. Unfortunately, the camp wasn’t set up to work with students who were not mostly the same. Although he was as intelligent as the other kids, his behaviors caused them (and then Liam) stress.
Yet another summer, we signed up super early for one of the best summer camps in our area. They always had waiting lists. They were also a day care, so I thought we were getting the best of education and summer fun. They did great activities over the summer: swimming, llamas, arts and crafts. Sigh. He did not like many of the activities. Because his group was on a “schedule,” he didn’t have time to warm up to the idea of the new sensory experiences. It wasn’t until about two weeks before the summer was over that he started to enjoy himself.
When I had a little more flexibility with my schedule, I started to look at more “academic” camps: Lego, Math (but not to accelerate him), Computers, K’nex, Vacation Bible School, Science.
This seemed to be a better fit for Liam. While it was a bit difficult to adjust to a new camp each week (although we didn’t send him to camp every week), because he really liked the topics and, in some instances, had to “qualify” for the camp, he was with peers who enjoyed the same things he did. Depending upon the teacher’s experience with students on the autism spectrum, Liam went from having time outs during his week-long camps to being asked to demonstrate a math concept on open house day in front of 15 other families.
We started to understand what he needed and what the camp would be able to offer him. For example, Lego camp at one location might just be play all day with Legos – he could do this at home. At another place, each day there was a challenge, individual and group work time, and some background information about the topic to learn – these were the camps he liked the best. For example, he really enjoyed learning about Charles Schultz in his Comics Camp.
We have always tried to expand his horizons during the summer. He loves math. But we don’t usually send him to math camp. Rather, we send him to science and technology camp or cartooning (example below), so he can use math concepts to broaden his understanding of how to apply math to other situations.
He’s even taken music lessons, tennis, and swimming, along with family vacations, in the summer. We also “schedule” some down weeks.
I start planning the summer about this time of year. Each year, I am on the lookout for something well structured, but fun and engaging, so that Liam can have a positive, motivating experience, that fits the “spirit” of summer. I have just started planning this summer – though we are still waiting to learn if Liam will be going to TSA Nationals in Orlando.
He hopes to go back to Millersville University for year 2 of a camp that they offer – he said he would like to continue there because he will know many of the kids that were there this past year. I would say that already the summer is shaping up to be not so boring.