Structuring the summer

Summer break — for parents, the word “break” may be inaccurate. The loss of structure and routine that accompanies those school-free months can be a challenge for any parent, but the time off creates a unique set of problems for parents of children with special needs. “Many kids with special needs, whether it be autism, ADHD, or any other kind of developmental disability need structure and routine to feel a sense of control in their day,” said Heather Tussing, an occupational therapist at Blanchard Valley Center, an educational facility for people with developmental disabilities. “The loss of structure that comes with summer can lead to increased acting out and behaviors, which can be difficult for parents to know how to handle.”

While it’s easy to become overwhelmed, Tussing says there are activities and routines that can help parents and their children enjoy the coming vacation. Here, she offers her tips for making summer a stress-free growing experience for you and your child.

• Structure and routine are key. “Continue to have a designated bed time at night and wake up time in the morning,” Tussing says.

• Create a schedule of activities. “Put a schedule for the day where the child can see it. This can be a picture or written schedule on a dry-erase board. A picture schedule could consist of images of daily activities taken with your own digital camera. Then, place the images of the  activities on the board that include ‘non-negotiables’ like ‘get ready for the day’ (brush your teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, take a bath). Allow the child to select from a group of available activities, like going to the park or running through the sprinkler in the back yard. The parent can control the activities for the day, but the child has some control by choosing the specific activities. Having a visual schedule allows the child to know what comes next.”

• Get outside. “Studies show that today children suffer from ‘nature deficit disorder’ — due to so many electronic devices, kids spend much of their time indoors instead of outside exploring and experiencing nature. Outdoor activities are both educational and calming. The Hancock County Park District offers many summer programs for your child ( has a complete listing). Many of the parks in Hancock County have paved pathways that make them wheelchair accessible. Go on a nature walk and help your child find various items for a collection box with natural items like pine cones, acorns, and leaves. The park district also has a program for ‘Wee Ones’ that caters to children ages 3-5.”
• Plant and nurture a garden together. “Plant a garden or flower bed with your child and then let them help care for the garden by watering, weeding, and harvesting the vegetables.” This is an educational opportunity about plant and insect life, Tussing says.

• Kids love to help. “Give your child a summer job, which   could include mowing the lawn, walking the dog, watering plants, weeding the garden/flower bed, collecting and cashing in recyclables. To turn in aluminum cans and make a little money for their piggy banks, take cans to Shorty’s Recycling Center on Crystal Ave. in Findlay. To recycle cans, newspaper, plastics, and glass, you can go to Litter Landing on East Sandusky St. in Findlay.”

• Read with your child. “Make regular visits to the library. Reading to your child helps to develop speech and language skills that are so important for communication. Let your child turn the pages of the book to encourage fine motor skills, have your child point to pictures, and ask your child questions about what you’ve read.”

• Splash around in the pool. “Swimming is a great activity for children with special needs, especially children with physical disabilities. Being in the water allows them to move in a weightless environment and promotes range of motion, strengthening, and endurance.”

• Sign up for a camp. “There are camps and activities in our area that are designed for children with special needs.” Some examples include:Geary Family YMCA Autism Swim Program in Fostoria. Call 419-435-6608 for more info. 

Serenity Farms equestrian center provides therapeutic riding sessions taught by certified instructors as well as educational field trips for children and adults with disabilities. “Manes N Make Up” is a summer program for girls grades 4-6; “Lucky Learners” is for ages 4-6; and Serenity Farms Barn Buddy summer camp for kids with disabilities.  You can call 419-833-1308 or visit for more info. 

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