by Jenifer Truitt, Executive Director of Ziglar Family
It’s summertime, which means the end of the school year and a time for families to relax a bit from the regular busyness of life.
But just about all parents will agree: a summer without any structure can be a problem, even more so for children with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.
Eleven percent of school-age children have received a diagnosis of ADHD, and one in every 50 kids has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Experts encourage parents of these special needs children to stick to a set schedule or routine even when school’s out, cautioning that the transition back to school will be pretty difficult if your child doesn’t have a routine during the summer. The key is finding summer activities that provide the necessary structure while still being fun.
Summer gives you the perfect opportunity to get your kiddos away from the television and electronics and get them outside to play. Studies have shown that watching TV for extended periods of time slows brain activity and causes atrophy of muscles, which decreases the amount of stimulation to the brain.
As it is, children with ADHD often struggle with weakened spatial and visual skills, gross motor skills, balance and coordination, nonverbal communication, and overall concentration. Structured activities will help resolve these deficiencies in ways that are both skill-building and fun.
To begin, create a schedule with your children that balances activities they enjoy with ones that they might consider “boring,” like reading, along with blocks marked out for free time.
Following a structured schedule will strengthen their ability to meet expectations. As new ideas occur, fill in the free-time blocks. List everything — from casual, open-ended activities, like time on the computer, to structured ones, like cooking projects.
Break the scheduled activities into short 30-minute increments or less. Alternate the fun tasks with the more mundane ones. This way, your child is more likely to sustain focus and attention and see tasks to completion.
Children with ADHD are consistently looking for new activities to stimulate the brain.
Try summer activities that spark creativity and boost self-esteem. They should satisfy your child’s natural curiosity about the world and encourage his or her inquisitiveness.
Have your kids create something original — a song, a rap, a dance, or a story. Children with ADHD are left-brain heavy, which means they automatically rely on analytics and numbers rather than descriptors and abstract ideas. Creative play helps widen their imaginative scope.
Working on art projects such as sculpting with clay or using hands or even feet to paint on a giant canvas is helpful because it can strengthen the abstract area of the right brain that needs developing.
Mimicking games, such as “Simon Says” and “Red light, Green light,” are also beneficial for right-brain development because they’re nonverbal, physically active, and require periodically suppressing a response, which can be very difficult for children with ADHD. Succeeding in these games means working on several aspects that need improvement, especially in the areas of attention, concentration, and accurately interpreting social cues.
Playing on a Slip ‘N Slide with friends combines physicality with social engagement while stimulating the vestibular inner ear, which prompts better balance. Playing “Marco Polo” at the pool is also helpful because it strengthens both spatial awareness and auditory skills while a child interacts with others.
Plan for at least one “win” a day. Make sure your child gets to do at least one thing he’s really good at — or loves doing — every day. It could be creating something out of Play-Doh or playing the kazoo. And be sure to set aside a special time each day for him to tell you about it.
Give your children a say in the schedule for the day, which includes allowing them to be in charge of some free time every day. Their choice might be to swim, ride a bike, read comic books, or watch a little bit of TV.
Have family fun together. It shows your children that you want to schedule time just to be with them. It can be playing a game or going on a family outing or vacation together. Remember, to a child, love is spelled T-I-M-E.
Even the most energetic kids need downtime. Help them find a hobby for quiet times, such as keeping a summer scrapbook or starting a collection — of photos, drawings, bugs, bottle caps, whatever. If your child is a slow starter, schedule quiet time in the morning, and save structured activities for the afternoon, when he or she is more focused.
You don’t have to schedule every minute of the day. The idea is to provide your child with a summer routine that is predictable, but flexible. This slower-paced season will be enjoyable and productive for your children and you by thinking ahead and providing a little guidance and structure to curb impulsivity and teach them how to create their own fun time.
NOTE: This blog post is not written by a medical expert and is not intended in any way to provide medical nor any other expert advice. Tips and strategies shared here were gathered from multiple resources as well as personal experience.