We are officially back into the dog days of summer for our crew. School is out and I have lots of plans to try and maximize our summer fun (while still working to hit some summer goals as well.) Damion has done very well with the transition to summer this year, which is such an improvement from our summer meltdown mania of the past. But even with the huge improvements, we still seem to struggle from time to time, especially on the slower days.
Damion loves to be on the go, and if he had it his way we would out and doing something until bedtime every day. And even though that often sounds like a great day to me too, it just isn’t realistic. I still have a house to maintain, and work-related tasks to complete. The week has to be able to accommodate time for me to do all those non-preferred activities as well, and let’s be honest, this mom needs to be able to sit down every once in a while, too. Not to mention, not every day is a good day to be out and about. Even when you have time for a day full of play, sometimes the weather is just not on your side. So how do we handle the slow day struggles at our house? Well, I can almost answer that in just two words: Picture Schedules.
Picture schedules were not always something that I utilized. Since Damion was fairly verbal, I did my best to just give a rundown of the day’s events, talking him through them all. I feel like he understood everything ok, but then we still would have a meltdown. Last year I changed up my game and I started making picture schedules every day for summer. In doing that, I saw the meltdowns drastically decrease. It seemed that even though he is verbal, and we could talk about our day, he obviously preferred the picture schedule. So, it was a little more work, but well worth the time to add it into my day.
Picture schedules can be created different ways. Many people print, or get basic pictures ahead of time and then Velcro them to a sheet each day in the order of their plans. I found that my preferred method was to just create one on our desktop computer each morning and print out a page (see an example of one of ours above.) Doing it on the computer allows me to have access to any picture I need. I always build off the same word document so I still have our “favorites” stored as well for easy access. The only small downfall is that once the schedule is printed and you are out and about for the day, this method is harder to physically change up than the Velcro way would be. But that issue has been pretty minimal for us so far.
Damion gets excited to have his list created for the day. He is a smart kid too, so has learned to try and persuade me to add more things that he prefers each day. When he knows I’m working on the “list” he will often come in and start looking over my shoulder, and then, the requests come out: Requests to see his grandparents, request to go to the park, requests to go get purple drink, and so on. I politely remind him each day that I am “not taking orders”. He fusses a bit, and a bit more on the slow days for sure, but generally when that picture schedule is printed, he is a pretty happy guy again.
I have also found that on those slow days, when his face looks a bit more disappointed as he looks at me making his “list” without all his fun favorites, a little negotiation can go a long way. Maybe this means I let him pick a favorite of his for dinner and add it to the list? Maybe we add in time for him to watch a show of his choosing? It doesn’t have to be a big outing that takes up a large chunk of the day. He just wants to know that the day has some things to look forward to, and even on busy days I know I can accommodate these. Believe me, giving a little bit on items like this will save me far more time than dealing with a meltdown later.
Planning ahead can come in handy too. I often try to look ahead at the weather forecast for the week and try to plan our slow days for the days that you don’t want to be outside anyway. That way we don’t have multiple slow days in a row. Weather forecasts are not as perfect as I would like them to be for this type of planning, but it’s all I have to go off of, so I work with what I’ve got.
Slow days are not only contained in the summer of course, during the school year they can be found too. But with the school day schedules in the mix at that time, we find that the slow days are far more noticeable during our summer months. I love the days when I create the picture schedule and show Damion what is on the list for the day and his face just lights up with excitement. Deep down I wish that could be every day too. But the reality is, not every day can be a “fun day”. The not-so-fun stuff has to get done too. I also know firsthand that having a productive day when your child is having meltdowns galore isn’t very feasible either. I have learned to give him just enough say so in the day to keep the meltdowns at bay. Being a stay-at-home mom to an autistic child during summer break is really just a balancing act. And once you figure out the balance of a good schedule, your summer days, even the slow ones, will go much smoother overall.