Surviving The Summer... Summertime Challenges And Tips For SPD Families

Surviving the summer With SPD kids can be tough. Routines and schedules change, structure can be hard to come by, vacations (although exciting) can challenge our kids physically, emotionally, and neurologically, our "free time" as parents can be sucked dry, and the extra "free time" for our kids can leave them under stimulated and longing for productive, fun activities. 

Often, summer life dictates contradictions to an SPD kiddo's tolerances and preferences. But, somehow, we all have to get through it. So, what do we do? THE BEST WE CAN!

Today I would like to introduce you to the challenges my dear daughter faces in the summer and give you some tips at the end about how YOU can help your children get through their summer.

You see, summer for my daughter brings many challenges...perhaps you can relate (or at least empathize with her). She does NOT do well with transitions and new environments; transitions are hard, even at 11 years old. To make matters worse, for 6-8 weeks every summer (as well as other times during the year), I "take her away" from every routine and comfort of home she has to spend time with me (her dad and I are separated). The inner turmoil she experiences is difficult. She wants so much to be with me, but she quickly becomes homesick for her usual space, dog, dad, and all the structure and routines she is used to.

So, the first few nights of transition are always tough...and she often verbalizes how hard it is for her to go back and forth between me and her dad. Each time she does, it adds much anxiety, which rears it's ugly head as stomach aches.

Compounding this is my difference in personality from her and her dad. I like spontaneity; "going" and "doing". But each time we GO and DO it becomes another transition and takes her further from her routines and comfort zone. Overnights are especially difficult to adjust to. And, so it seems, each place we go, the emotions run high, and the stomach aches increase. (Our sensitive SPD kids tend to do best with rituals and routines, as this is one way of ensuring control over their sensory environments and lessen anxiety).

Unfortunately for our SPD kids, everything just seems to hit harder, faster, deeper, and most definitely lasts longer. So, there are many times our "plans" are revised as the anxiety and overwhelmingness sets in. It truly becomes a race between "This is fun!" and "This is too much!"

And, if you have any experience with a kiddo like mine, you WILL find yourself doing strange things you never would have thought possible just to help them through it all. There are many things our family and friends may never understand about how and why we make what seem to be "silly accommodations", but how can we NOT if we want our children to feel comfortable, safe, and happy??!!

We as parents will do whatever it takes to help our SPD kiddos...and this understanding and validation we give them is definitely worth it! Just because much of their difficulties are less obvious and less understood by others, doesn't mean we can't help them the best way we know how. Trial and error, listening, caring, experiencing, accommodating, and a great OT program will help YOU understand what YOUR child needs!

My bet is that me and my daughter are not the ONLY ones who have difficulty with the many challenges summertime brings. For those of you who can relate, I would like to give you some ideas on how to make summer just a little bit easier. WE are still learning, and every year brings different challenges. But somehow we do it, and in the big picture we DO have a GREAT summer together. Hopefully the tips below will help you to have one too!!

Summertime Tips To Help Your SPD Family

1. Make a schedule/calendar of activities you have planned in pictures or words for your children.

2. If away on vacation, plan for some down time every day when everyone can regroup, rest, or relax away from major stimulation.

3. Think about what overwhelms your child and minimize exposure to this if possible; if it must happen, have a SPECIFIC plan for what you will do when your child is becoming overloaded/overaroused.

4. Ask your pediatrician if you can give your child "Bonine" (less side effects than Dramamine) if you will spend long hours in moving vehicles and your child tends to get motion sickness.

5. Try to keep your children as physically active as possible throughout the summer; SWIMMING is the number one pick for deep pressure, calming, heavy work input. Swim, swim, swim!!

6. Schedule a babysitter 1-2 times per week so you don't neglect YOUR needs.

7. Try to keep the same bedtime routines and times for going to sleep and waking up as your child does the rest of the year (don't fluctuate more than one hour!)

8. Keep your kids hydrated and give them extra input by drinking with straws or out of sports bottles, make homemade italian ice from juice or sugar free Kool Aid, and have plenty of sugar free popsicles and/or freeze pops around.

9. Go bowling...this is a great heavy work activity and it is AIR CONDITIONED! (Oh, while you're there, work on those fine motor skills and eye hand coordination with a round of pool)

10. When spending nights away from home bring those weighted blankets!

11. If you can afford it, get those kids into summer camps that are geared to their particular talents, skills, and interests.

12. For those picky eaters...allow them to choose a favorite restaurant while on vacation; when the other children or parents picks the place, make a rule that your picky eater must try at least one bite of something new, then reward them for doing so even if they didn't like it. You can also ask the waiter for a sample of a particular sauce your child may be getting (to taste it BEFORE ordering), ask for modifications or substitutions, and/or put together a meal using side dishes or appetizers (we have also asked for things that were not specifically on the menu, and they had them).

13. Think about your child's specific sensory needs and plan activities/trips that will meet those needs. Encourage, but do not force activities that cause anxiety or overarousal.

14. If planning a new experience, prepare your child as much as possible ahead of time. For example, if going camping for the first time, start a week ahead of time...set up the tent in the child's room to play in, then to sleep in with you, then by themselves, give them a flashlight, bedtime favorite animals/blankets, etc. Gradually incorporate all camping experiences within the safe, familiar home, and eventually do a few dry runs in the backyard. Heck, build a small fire and make s'mores if you want!

Another example? If you know your child will have to fall asleep differently at someone else's house, do it at home first. For, example if they usually fall asleep in their own bed with the tv on, but they will have to sleep on the floor or couch without the tv, have them try it at home. Use a cd player or headphones and have them pick out relaxing music or a book on tape at the store that they think will help them fall asleep.

15. Give them chores/responsibilities for which they can earn money to save up for a special treat or reward at the end of each week or end of the summer. (They could even earn "time" with Mom or Dad, doing a special activity 1:1...even if it is at a favorite park or children's museum that is free on Sunday's between noon and five).

And, one more for home, just for FUN...

16. Get your kids on the trampoline, have them jump their little legs off, then lather them up with shaving cream, have them draw on the trampoline and/or their bodies with shaving cream (or funny foam), then hose them and the trampoline off. (you can even practice math will want to do math if they get to do it THIS way!)

Certainly I could go on and on, but I think you get the basics. Slow, gradual introductions, in sync with their sensory needs, physically active, preparing for and expecting some difficulties, and keeping all senses in mind. Try to minimize overarousal and keep your kids stimulated as much as possible. Let them in on the planning of trips and activities, and give lots of bear hugs!!

Try to stay cool the rest of the summer, and don't forget to get that school shopping done early so as not to stress you or your children out!! AND, one week before school starts, get them on that school schedule!!

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Further Reading And Related Resources

Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist - comprehensive SPD Checklist; signs and symptoms of tactile, auditory, olfactory and oral defensiveness, as well as proprioceptive and vestibular dysfunction.

Sensory Integration Activities - Turning Therapy Into Play - Sensory integration activities are the lifeline to achieving maximum function in children with SPD.

Creating A Home Sensory Diet - Are you confused about how to create a home sensory diet for your child who has a sensory processing disorder? Then check this article out for explanations and suggestions.

Nature Therapy For Sensory Processing Disorder - Excellent article written by a natural light portrait photographer living the rural life out in Iowa. She documents her son’s progression and challenges with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder through the art of photography.

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