Summer is finally here. And for the first time in years, my husband and I are glad that we found recreational activities that work for our six-year old son, Angel. He is enrolled in a great baseball challenger league and at a sports gym program for children with special needs. We also try to take advantage of the various access and sensory-friendly programs in our area.
Angel is an only child, so we make an extra effort to expose him to activities that can help him learn how to socialize and interact with his peers. He receives extended school year services (ESY), so this means he attends summer school. His schedule limits our ability to do fun activities with him during the week, but we try to keep him busy during weekends.
It has been a long journey for us as we tried to find appropriate activities for Angel. First, we needed to accept that activities meant for typically-developing children were not a right fit for our son. Inclusion can work for some children with autism, but Angel is just not there yet. Another lesson we learned is that all special needs activities are not appropriate for all special needs children.
So how can you find an activity for your child with autism? Honestly, there is no magic answer. All children on the spectrum are different and like anyone else, their interests may vary. Still, there are some general ideas that can be applied to all of us autism parents.
- Network: When you expand your social circle online or in your community, you can become exposed to ideas from other parents who have been there. One thing about us, as parents, is we love to share a good thing when we hear about it. Do not be afraid to ask questions. I have learned about many great recreational programs from other parents. Remember your network is priceless.
- Research: It can be difficult for some of our children to participate in mainstream activities. However, I want to encourage you to research organizations in your area that provide activities that may interest your child. Subscribe to publications that target special needs parents. Look into programs that target children with special needs. Be prepared to provide 1:1 support for your children, if you decide to enroll them in a mainstream activity. Some mainstream programs may not have staff members who are trained to work with our kids.
- Know your Child: As parents, we have to tune into our kids’ interests and maximize their opportunities to get exposed to them. If there is an activity that can enhance your child’s ability to work on a skill, then go for it. Still we should not force our kids to continue to participate in an activity if week after week they are having a miserable time. As they say “everything ain’t for everybody.” Some of our kids are nonverbal so they may not be able to tell us if they like an activity, but they will certainly show us. We have to be willing to listen and observe.
- Trials are Good: Free trials are great way to find out if your child will do well in an activity. Sometimes it may take two trials to figure that out. If a recreational program is willing to make this accommodation for you, then it is definitely one worth checking out. Remember that if you try something out now and it does not work you can always give it a rest and try again later.
Like everything else for our kids, finding appropriate activities for them is a process. All we can do is stick it out until we find something that works. Our children will definitely benefit now and in the long run.
BMWK: Is your child enrolled in an activity this summer? Share in the comments and this could help another parent find something in their area.