Summer Transitioning: A Mother/Son Journey

Summer Transitioning: A Mother/Son Journey

Summer transitioning can be a painful experience for some individuals. Routines established during the academic year come to an “abrupt” end. This change can create stress and anxiety which can lead to regressions in daily activities and create ripple effects going into the following academic year. I recently had the opportunity to explore one Mother’s journey with her son through this transition and learn more about what she provided to work through this time of transition and create a foundation from which her son could find success. She was a certified teacher who had also created a Special Needs program for one of the schools in which she worked. Her son was diagnosed with autism at an early age with various expectations from the professionals who were part of the diagnosis. She maintained her own expectations and was determined to create the most positive environment for her son. Her efforts, although painful and tear-filled at times, culminated last month when her son graduated with highest honors from college.


Q: What inspired you to create your summer transition program for your son?


A: I observed at an early age that the more I was able to create routines for him, the greater the chance that he could focus on the tasks at hand. It could also lead to lesser levels of escalations, especially when tasks were difficult to complete. As he entered Kindergarten, he was placed in an inclusive setting. Knowing that he would have to be ready for those settings, I made sure that he was prepared for things like waking up at a certain time, brushing teeth, getting dressed, having breakfast, and getting to the bus stop on time. We began this process in early August so that when the school year started, the only difference in the morning activity was the fact that he would get on the bus and go to school. What this also did was teach life skills that would stick with him throughout his life. I had to monitor each part of what he was doing, even going as far as laying out his clothes the night before so he could see everything in the morning and nothing was a surprise. Skills like brushing teeth and washing one’s face were important to establish as well since he also had some sensory issues. Hygiene was a focus of our morning routine. It also led to many arguments and some escalations early on. However, the skills he worked on daily became behaviors which was the intent.


Q: How and why did you expand that into other parts of the summer?


A: As we came to the end of a school year, I knew that his routine was about to take a drastic shift which could create escalations. Along with that, I also knew that the skills he had been working on in school- things like printing and reading, could regress if we did not maintain consistency in practice. I also realized if I started creating a home-school environment, he would miss out on the idea of summer fun and the idea in the workplace of a vacation. So, I spent significant time researching what he would be covering the following year, along with other opportunities he could be involved in during the summer months. I want everyone reading this to understand that preparing him for the summer was not something we did on the first day of break either. I began preparing him in early May for this transition.  As he grew, he also participated in the design and expectations of what we were going to be doing to add to a dimension of independence and accountability on his part. We would set a schedule which had to include some academic skills that needed to be supported, along with time for fun and exploration. I involved him in local camps for play and made sure that he was able to participate in tee-ball to add that athletic dimension. Exercise is important for all our children. Though with some, we have to “disguise” exercise in fun activities. By the end of May, we would have our daily schedule set with a checklist of items to accomplish each day. Because of the timing of the various camps, practices, and other fun activities, I looked at setting schedules which varied a little each day. Even though the timing of his activities might differ, he still had a checklist of items to accomplish each day. In his younger years, the writing aspect of our work was the most difficult and created the most stress for both of us. He handled the math, reading, and keyboarding skills adequately. He, like many other children, would have preferred to simply play and avoid “academic” activities, but became more accustomed to it.  


Q: You mentioned trying out various camps and activities. Tell us a little more about that process and what it led to for him.


A: I wanted to make sure that he had experience in many different areas. The playground camps were good because it helped him to work on his social interactions. The tee-ball experience was good for exercise. He did transition away from tee-ball after coach pitch as it was not interesting for him. His Middle School Principal suggested that he get involved in Cross Country. He did as he entered Junior High school and that maintained enough exercise for him that kept him in shape and healthy. I also experimented with other camps just to have him try out new things. Some worked and some did not.  In many cases, I had to do my homework on the camps and explain some of his needs as we went into them. As he grew older, his experiences allowed him to make new friends and learn more about himself.  It was during the summer he was preparing for Junior High that he tried an acting camp. He fell in love with the idea of acting and really found a niche that fed his self-esteem and independence. I would never have thought that would be an area of interest, but I am so glad that these camps were available so that we could try out different things. Acting became a passion for him throughout High School as well as being his major in college. All the pain we went through in printing and writing also paid off as he moved into AP English courses and found interest in writing his own plays and screenplays as well. The routines we established in those early days led him to understand and partake in summer work experiences throughout his older years.


Q: We could go on speaking about the generalities as well as specifics of the journey the two of you took during the summers. What is some advice that you can give to parents and teachers working with these parents as they look to do similar programs with their children?


A: First, this story is one of success and perseverance. Parents and teachers must understand that this is a journey that has many rough patches and detours. There will be escalations, tears, anger, and high levels of stress. The critical piece is not to give up or abandon this idea. Our children look to us for guidance and how they see us react will also be part of the behaviors that they learn throughout this process. When the escalations happen, be sure to give time for your child as well as yourself. You need to be aware that giving up an important activity because of an escalation does create a pathway that can lead to trained behavior which promotes more escalations. Stay with the process and adjust over time as opposed to eliminating activities altogether.

Second, look at the activities and see how they prepare your child for the rest of her or his life. Things like brushing teeth and washing one’s face are only a part of life skills. Understanding how to set a schedule and how to create to-do lists are another important part of life. Using the idea of camps to get both an idea of what interests them and what they might have some abilities in is good. The camps can also signify that work experiences are part of life and how one can be prepared to have the skills associated with summer or part-time jobs. Printing and writing are forms of communication. I understand that some individuals may not be able to physically print or write, but they could use products like speech-to-text software and eye-gaze or head movement devices to put words together and create stories. Never look at these activities as something just for school. Everything has a purpose and be sure to share that purpose with the child. Even doing math can lead to counting change, balancing a checkbook, or becoming an accountant.

Finally, guide them into making some decisions early on, and more decisions as they get older. This is an important skill for everyone! When you guide them, give them some flexibility while maintaining their accountability, and celebrate their successes, they become confident and independent adults.  Sharing this experience with them does have its highs and lows. However, when you see them doing something that others have told you would not happen, know that you have helped them succeed in life! Celebrate all victories with them and love them for who they are. They may even surprise you with what they can and will accomplish!


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