For the past couple months, Jakob and I have been having discussions about what he would like to do this summer. He has a few trips planned, one to see his family in New York, one to see my parents in Illinois and then one to see his biomedical doctor in upstate New York.
On our way to see Dr. Bock, we’re going to stop at Sesame Place in Pennsylvania for a day or two, and he’s super pumped. And I’ll be honest, I think I might be as excited as he is. Sesame Street for me is a league of its own. It’s not Blue’s Clues, Barney or any of the shows that were big when he was little. It can easily be appreciated by kids of all ages. My mother who is 77 still loves to watch it with us. I mean, seriously can you beat Cookie Monster, Grover, and Oscar? I think not.
Between those three road trips, we have approximately 20 days of summer break taken care of. Figuring out what to do with the other 70 has been the bane of my existence for the past three months (I’m being only slightly dramatic).
If he were a typical kid, it would be no big deal. A Gold Pass to King’s Island, a driver’s license and a car would take care of it. But what we need to take into consideration is a little more complicated than wondering if I have good enough car insurance.
Will he be able to keep his regular therapy schedule? Are there camps that work around his therapy schedule? What camps are there? Who’s running them? What are their qualifications? Are they camps that just keep him entertained or do they actually work on the goals in his IEP? Is there anyone working at these camps who are already familiar with Jakob? Will the people there be patient enough to take the time to figure out what Jakob is trying to tell them? How do we get him there and who’s going to pick him up? Will he have fun? Do they do things he enjoys? Will he be safe? How close of an eye will they keep on him? What are the options for days and hours? Are all the good camps already filled up? How much is it going to cost? Is it worth it? Do I even really want to send him to camp?
Maneuvering it all requires calm contemplation and a focus on what it is I want Jakob to get out of this three-month break from his high school for kids on the spectrum that he loves so much. I want him to be happy, healthy and safe. Those are always the top priority. I want him to have fun. For Jakob, that means doing something he enjoys with people he likes and being met where he’s at. He needs to feel heard and understood, respected and celebrated. And I would love for him to continue loving to learn how to communicate more clearly and make new friends and interact with them.
For us, that means summer break is filled with horseback riding, music camp, swimming, plenty of arts and crafts, Saturday night parties at the house with all his friends and plenty of speech and occupational therapies.
The pressure on special needs parents surrounding summer programming is intense. We know our kids are behind their peers. In some cases, far behind. We know how hard they work all year long and the thought of putting them through that in the summer too is painful. We want our kids to just be able to be kids. And we also know that if they’re left to their own devices, they will likely grab their iPads, PlayStations or DVD collections, and that will be it.
I believe there is a happy medium. Focus, make fun a priority, and identify what motivates them and figure out how to use their motivations to achieve the behavioral, social and educational goals you have set for them. When we do these simple things, our paths become clear and we all have a great summer break.