Minimize Sensory Overload and Meltdowns This Summer with These Tips
Summer can be a challenging time for children with behavioral and social issues due to a more relaxed schedule and loss of social opportunities. As a result, many children can become more prone to meltdowns. The following six tips and strategies will help parents keep kids calm and free from meltdowns once the school year is finished.
1. Keep A Schedule
Whether it’s a written schedule or one with pictures for younger kids, your child with special needs will feel calmer and safer knowing what is coming next. During summer break, it can be more difficult to give your child a concrete schedule since activities can be short-lived or even spontaneous. For the parts of your day that are open-ended, try adding a block of time to your child's schedule called "open play" or use a question mark to indicate the time slot has yet to be filled. Discuss the schedule regularly and provide information for spontaneous events as they arise. For example, if you decide to go out for ice cream, let your child help you draw or write it in the schedule. Always let your child know which events will take place outdoors and which will be loud or crowded. For kids with neuro-behavioral disorders, more information means better transitions and less meltdowns.
2. Use A Code Word
Choose a code word your child can use if he or she feels overwhelmed and needs a sensory break. Assure your child if he or she uses the code word, you will respond right away. Again, giving children some control during activities that may be overstimulating for them will reduce their anxiety level and meltdowns. This technique could be particularly helpful during special events like parades, vacations, or pool parties where a child's ability to communicate effectively may be impaired. Helping a child recognize and manage his or her own sensory experience will naturally lead to fewer meltdowns.
3. Have A Family Meeting
Before you attend parties, parades, or other fun events, have a quick family meeting so your whole family knows how long you plan to stay and how you expect them to behave. This will benefit neuro-typical children as well since any child can get overstimulated from summertime excitement.
4. Make Sleep A Priority
Continue to make your child’s sleep schedule a priority even in summer. While you may adjust your schedule to accommodate a later sunset, it is still important to establish consistent sleep and wake times throughout the season. Revert to your school schedule two to three weeks before school begins again so your child is well-rested and ready to learn.
5. Plan Ahead
Children with significant sensory sensitivities may require a little extra planning to enjoy summer activities. For example, you may need to bring along ear plugs if you will be in a noisy environment or sensory fidgets if the child is expected to sit still. For sensitive kids who need to wear bathing suits or other potentially aggravating attire, bring along soft, comfortable clothes for them to change into as soon as possible. Be prepared by knowing your child’s specific limitations and how you will handle them if the need arises. Be proactive to stay ahead of sensory sensitivities instead of waiting for meltdowns to begin.
6. Be Inclusive
If your family members have food sensitives or allergies that prevent them from eating summertime treats, plan ahead to offer alternatives like all-natural candy or a gluten-free treat from home. Children with neuro-behavioral disorders like ADHD and Asperger Syndrome often feel different already, so make an extra effort to include them in as many festivities as possible.
Keeping kids calm and focused this summer isn't out of reach. A little extra planning and preparation can help your child with a neuro-behavioral disorder enjoy all the fun things summer has to offer while minimizing stress and meltdowns.