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Summer is Here! How To Help My Special Needs Child Stay On Track

Balancing the long sunny days, barbeques, and swim sessions with educational or academic intervention may seem like an impossible task, but it’s something to consider if you have a child with special education needs.  Here are some tips and tricks to enable your special needs child to enjoy this summer, while also helping them maintain the progress they made during the school year:

1. Request progress reports if you have a child participating in Extended School Year (ESY)

If your child is enrolled in Extended School Year (ESY) services through their Individualized Education Plan (IEP), you have the right to request updates on how they are doing. If your child has IEP goals that are being worked on by the school team (for example, a speech and language goal, or a reading goal), then you can specifically request progress reports for those goals. Those progress reports should give you an idea of whether your child has improved, worsened, or stayed the same. The reports are usually provided to parents at the end of ESY, since ESY usually ranges from 6 – 8 weeks.  If your child has regressed or stayed the same, this would be a helpful document to show to the IEP team in the fall if you want to request more of or a different kind of special education service or support.

Expert Tip: Ask the ESY staff at the beginning of the summer whether they will be tracking your child’s progress through progress monitoring reports. If they say yes, then you can circle back with them at the end of ESY. If they say no, then you can reach out to the director of special education or another supervisor to find out why your child’s data and progress are not being monitored and reported during ESY. 

2. Incorporate “experiential learning” into day-to-day activities

One of the fears you may encounter with summer approaching is, how will my child do once school starts if they are not in a structured class setting? There are many ways you can incorporate structure and experiential learning into your child’s summer days (depending on their age, of course) which include:

Create a routine: Although it is summer, many special needs kids thrive on having a consistent routine every day, particularly students with neurotypical conditions like Autism spectrum disorder or students with behavioral or mental health conditions such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, mood disorder, ODD, etc.  This doesn’t mean that you have to wake your child up at 7 am and enforce a strict bedtime hour, but you can create a schedule of what their “days” will look like, carving out specific times for free play, attending camp, relaxing and playing sports or participating in extracurricular activities.

Provide opportunities for improving activities of daily living: There are many practical skills or also referred to as activities of daily living (ADLs) which kids may need to improve but don’t have the same time during the school year. These can and will vary by age but can include, cooking, cleaning, gardening, grocery shopping with parents, tying their shoes, handwriting and typing skills, drawing, tracing, or counting/managing money.  All of these skills are critical skills that students learn at specific developmental milestones and can be honed during the summer break. If your child has an IEP Occupational Therapy goal addressing handwriting and holding scissors but has not regressed to the point where they need ESY, you can set aside a few “times” a week where you provide opportunities to work on these goals.

Offer ways to engage in sensory activities: All activities where your child is actively playing (rather than watching the iPad or playing a video game) can be beneficial to their sensory development and growth. Examples of sensory-related activities can include swimming in a pool or a lake, visiting museums like LegoLand or the Franklin Institute, and exploring parks and gardens such as Morris Arboretum, Chanticleer Garden, or Longwood Gardens.

Foster social skills: If you have a child with anxiety or social skills deficits, consider making weekly playdates with another child, taking your child to the playground, and enrolling them in camp or a structured day program. Of course, cater these activities and social opportunities to your child.

Identify learning goals: If your child struggles in reading, writing, or math, take some time (when you have time!) to help them read a book, practice their writing, or perform some math problems. Reading books, working on puzzles, and playing educational games are all ways to reinforce the academic learning skills your child has been working on in school.

3. Start preparing for the Fall

Summer comes and goes quickly! In early August (or possibly before), set aside some time to review your child’s progress (or regression from the summer).  Has your child been doing well in camp or in other activities, or have they been struggling? Is there a new medical, emotional, or behavioral issue that has arisen with your child? How did your child do in ESY after you reviewed the progress reports? Did your child have a private educational evaluation or have a change to their medications? Take the time to gather this information and write it down. If there are documents, then share them with the school.  If there have been changes that may impact your child’s school programming (whether it’s a 504 plan or an IEP), email the school district to request an IEP meeting before school starts. Although it is summer and not all of the staff will be available to meet, there are many school district staff who can meet with you to discuss your child’s IEP, especially if changes to the programming or schedule need to be made. If the IEP team won’t meet with you before school, then set a date for the first or second week of school. 

If you have an older child in middle or high school, make sure they are comfortable with their class schedule and the school building. If they are not, or seem nervous, ask that your child be able to tour the school and walk through their classrooms before class starts so they can get a lay of the land. For a younger child who may experience anxiety, ask if your child can meet with the teacher(s) the week before school starts. Usually, all school staff are in training and preparing their classrooms that week, so they should be available.

4. Don’t forget to have fun!

Above all, always remember to focus on the present, enjoy your child, and bask in the long summer days.

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The information within this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Please consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your personal situation.


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