Summer vacations can be extremely challenging not only for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but their parents as well. While it is nice to take a break from the day-to-day activities, it is important to maintain structure and consistency in an effort to maintain the skills children have developed. The relationships children with ASD develop are essential to their well-being, just as they are for everyone. Because of this, it is critical that education focuses on developing social skills so that children can build meaningful friendships.

Unfortunately, children with ASD often do not have the skills necessary to develop friendships on their own, so we need to teach them. Identifying key social skills such as joint attention, initiating interaction, playing cooperatively as well as providing them with continuous opportunities to practice, are methods that maximize a child’s learning and motivates them at the same time.

Just because school is out, doesn’t mean that learning and development has to be put on hold for the summer. Even during the summer months, the key to successful Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is to immerse the child into treatment for as much of the day as possible. By doing so, valuable time is not lost. Young children are not only able to tolerate intensive intervention, but also thrive on the stimulation. It is important to utilize as many opportunities throughout the day to teach appropriate skills and to reduce the child’s opportunity to engage in detrimental behaviors.

Summer day camps enable children to continue social development while school is out of session. They are designed to increase quality of life and functional independence through themed programs which include games, arts and crafts. At Autism Partnership, our ABA experts will identify the important skills needed for each specific camper so that we can address each child’s unique abilities. Each week-long day camp will focus on developing behavioral and social skills that will enable each child to improve their communication skills.

Treatment should be fun and creative. Summer camp programs should be designed to benefit the needs and interests of the children. These programs and camps focus on classroom readiness skills, social responsiveness, initiating and sustaining interactions and keeping a child’s emotions under control. The key to summer camps is to provide a fun environment for children and adolescence while continuing to provide consistent treatment. Both are necessary to improve their chances of recovery.

Below are the types of themed camp programs that Autism Partnership offers in August:

Going Green (Aug. 10-14): Going Green camp will help children focus on self-awareness and the ability to understand what others are saying/doing and respond appropriately. As more and more schools and communities actively seek ways to “go green,” this camp will teach children the importance of saving the environment and inspire greater social awareness through exciting outings and fun projects. Our “conservationists-in-training” will learn about the benefits of reducing, reusing and recycling in order to reduce our carbon footprints while learning essential social skills.

Sports, Sports, Sports (Aug. 17-21): Sports camp will help children better understand the rules of games, taking the initiative to be an active and involved participant in a game and the importance of displaying good sportsmanship. They will also learn how to tolerate and control their frustrations as well as show empathy for their teammates and opponents.

Lights, Camera, Action (Aug. 24-28): Theater camp will help children understand the importance of sharing, compromising and negotiating, which are essential to being part of a successful ensemble as well as with friendships. Children can choose to be part of the action in front of the camera or behind the scenes and work on set design, programs and publicity. This program helps them improve social skills, maintain behavioral control and sustain attention in a group.

When considering any program for your child, it’s important to consider:

• Choose a “good” ABA program: High quality ABA utilizes a variety of natural reinforcers such as activities, toys and social reinforcement. The ultimate objective is that children become internally reinforced.

• Focus on the whole child: Be sure that the program for intervention focuses on the entire child including communication, social, play and self-help skills.

• Expert ABA therapists: Teaching techniques need to be as natural as possible and should take place in natural settings with instructions that model natural language. Good therapists have received comprehensive and on-going training and instruction in areas such as teaching techniques, evaluating progress, curriculum and program design. It is also essential that they’ve participated in hands-on training. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their experience.

• Natural settings: It is important that children learn in natural settings with the typical distractions that occur in schools and the community. Removing distractions and utilizing artificial cues does not benefit the child. It is important that their environment is a true, real day-to-day environment, with a strong foundation on how to learn.

• Parent participation: It is crucial that parents, teachers, and family members are properly trained so that they know how to maximize the child’s learning while at home. This will ensure success on all levels.

Dr. Ron Leaf is the co-director of Autism Partnership and a licensed psychologist who has over 35 years of experience in the field of autism.

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