Friday, June 1, 2012

Summertime Blues

For 12 years of my life, there was nothing I looked forward to more than the last day of school and the start of summer vacation. I hated school. Probably more than the average kid. I liked seeing my friends enough, but the structure of school and the homework was just not my style. For some reason those three months of summer vacation seemed like an eternity. There were so many adventures to go on and so much to do with friends. Summer meant sleeping in, baseball, riding ATVs and family outings. My friends and I lived it up each summer as we would regularly go to one of my best friends’ cabin on a lake and go boating and tubing. There were summer romances and festivals to go to… all in all, summers were a care-free easy going time.

Now I have a six year old with autism spectrum disorder and summers mean something completely different. They mean breaking old routines and fighting to establish new ones. Searching desperately for summer programs and making sure that we build upon the advances she has made in school with one on one interaction. We are always fearful that Bianca will regress. Summer programs aren't cheap and when your budget is already pretty tight as it is, you want to make certain you are paying for something that is going to be a benefit.

With a 6 year old with autism, a NT 5 year old and an incredibly feisty 22 month old summer presents a lot of challenges. Since most parents don’t get summers off as well, we now have three kids that are full of energy and a strong desire to burn that steam off. Since the Mrs. and I work opposite schedules for the most part, that means that a majority of the time all three rugrats are with one parent.

When you have a two year old rambunctious boy that likes to bolt towards the street, and an autistic child that just plain like to bolt… taking the kids anywhere without a helper is not an option. So, we are forced to stay inside a lot of the time. I can take the kids to a really small park by the house by myself and the kids enjoy that because Sofie rides her bike and Luis and Bianca get to go in the wagon. So we do that almost every day. But even just playing in our front yard is tough for fear of one of the two runners getting to the street before I can stop them. At least my son is of an age now where we can go into the fenced in back yard more often and do stuff. He can't get away from there and I can keep Bianca from mouthing stuff she shouldn't.

Kids are so fast and I read too many horror stories about kids on the spectrum wandering away. I was with the little ones at a larger park. Bianca was in the little kid swing that she can’t get out of, so I took that time to help Luis and Sofie go across the monkey bars. I held Luis up and had him go to the end of the monkey bars and back, put him down and then spotted and helped Sofie across. I don’t think it took Sofie 30 seconds to go the length of the monkey bars and back. I turned to ask Luis if he wanted a turn, but he was gone. I looked over the structure thinking he went to go on a slide but didn’t see him. As I walked around the play structure I saw Luis running full steam towards a busy street. He was probably 25 yards or so away from the street when a driver saw him running that way and stopped, got of her car and started walking towards him. I am not the fastest runner in the world, but I know I would have got him in time, but still the help was appreciated. Luckily for me, the lady was a good-spirited soul and not a “What the hell is wrong with you?” kind of person. This wasn't even my autistic kid, so you can see my trepidation.

Bianca has only been on summer break for 5 days and you can already see the anxiety caused by having her routine disrupted. She has been moody and cranky and her sleep patterns have been a little off, but nothing like they used to be… thank goodness. Still, it got me worried about what is to come.

So as I reflected on the summer ahead, I realized something that came as a shock to ME; the school-hating, anti-establishment kid that counted down to summer vacation starting with the first school day of the year. I was now in favor of year-round schooling. Some parents of NT kids might like the idea because their kid has a place to go and they don’t have to arrange camps or babysitting. Those are all fine reasons. Some may just want to get their kids out of their hair and make their lives easier... not such a fine reason. But my thought was that my daughter would benefit greatly from the extra structure and education and maintenance of her routine.

Why isn't there mandatory year-round schooling for kids on the spectrum? Now I am not positive, so I will throw that disclaimer out there but I believe that the summer program in our area is only an option for certain kids. You have to qualify, and I am not certain what it takes to qualify; only that Bianca did not because we asked about it.

In the meantime, we will be working with Bianca as best we can to fight any regression. Her first summer break was brutal for her; the second and third ones were not as bad at all. We are just hoping that this year she will actually be able to ADVANCE instead of regressing or staying at the same level.

Brave & fearless.

We will be hitting the pool a lot and taking a lot of wagon rides this summer. Bianca LOVES carnivals, so we go to every festival we can that has rides. The cars that go around and make tons of noise and the Tilt-a-Whirl are personal favorites of Bianca; talk about vestibular sensory input!

I always talk about perspective and how as parents of special needs children, we are granted so much more of it than the average parent. I never thought that perspective would have made me in favor of year-round schooling though.

I wonder what the 14 year old me would say to me now.

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  1. The extended year program in my area starts 3wks after school ends and runs until 1st wk of August- so then 4wks until school begins in September.. I don't get why they offer it, saying so kids don't regress but with 7 wks missing during the summer w no school... My daughter just started school may 1st and is starting to learn the routine and now school is almost over- so frustrating!

  2. I was the same way. Couldn't wait for summer to start. But now with my children summers seem long and full of stress. My older children need the structure of school especially my autistic one. Were luck and our district has free summer programs for kids that need it. But I think that all kids will benefit more from a year long program, Especially if both parents work. Lots of small 2 week vacations are better than one lump 3 month long, brain draining break.