During my sabbatical, I am glad to welcome Meagan Ruffing for a summer post. Meagan is a parenting journalist and mom to three kids, one of whom has special needs. She loves sharing what’s worked and hasn’t worked for her and her family while navigating the world through her son’s eyes. For your free Summer Survival Guide: 26 Simple Activities You Can Do with Your Kids, visit www.meaganruffing.com

While my kids counted down the days until school was out, I quietly made a mental checklist of all the things that would change at home. I busied myself making phone calls to schedule behavioral and occupational therapy appointments, plus setting up an interview with a new social skills therapist to see if my son Dylan was a good fit for her summer program.

One of the most freeing things you’ll ever learn about raising a child with special needs is that each day is different, and you get to choose what will get you through that day; hour by hour, even minute by minute. Sometimes this means barely making it through the day and other times it means realizing, “Today was actually a good day!” as you lay your head down at night.

Because we all want more good days, here are five tips on how you can simplify your summer with your special needs child.

  1. The tone. Setting the tone for your summer is essential in getting things off to a good start. What does this mean? Get your kids excited about the fun things planned, but also let them know that there will be plenty of downtime where using their imaginations will be the only thing on that day’s agenda. A family calendar is helpful for having a visual reminder of what the summer is going to look like each month. Not only does it hold you accountable to appointments, but it allows your kids to see some white space. And white space = free time.
  2. SAHD (aka Stay-At-Home-Days). These are vital for families with special needs kids. Therapy appointments can quickly take over your schedule and before you know it, the day is done and dinner needs to be on the table. Be intentional about not planning anything several days a week. Leave your car in the garage and hunker down. I realize this may sound scary to some of you because staying at home all day with your special needs kid is overwhelming at times. You’ll find easy activities over on my website to do to help keep things simple, but fun.
  3. Find your balance. My son likes a balance of going out and staying home, so one to two outings a week works best for our family. This rhythm serves several purposes. It gives my kids something to look forward to and makes it easier for them to find things to do at home on their own, knowing that tomorrow or the next day they’ll be going out again. My kids look forward to helping me compile an A to Z list every summer. We sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and start brainstorming ideas on all the fun things we can do over the summer using all 26 letters. (A for Aquarium, B for Bass Pro Shops, etc.) When we complete an activity we check it off and get excited about the next one.
  4. Communicate the daily schedule. I originally started doing this for my son, but my other two children have come to enjoy it as well. Every morning (and I do mean every single morning), I tell my kids the plan for the day. It may be as simple as saying, “Hey guys, today is going to be low-key and we’re going to play outside this morning, eat lunch, have quiet time, read books, and go to Dylan’s therapy appointment.” My son has severe anxiety, so letting him know what to expect reduces the guess work for him.
  5. Craft bags. Each of my kids has a craft bag that they know to take with them when we’re in the car going to one of Dylan’s appointments. This helps simplify things when the girls and I are out in the waiting room. I try to keep their craft bags fun by putting new crayons, markers and stickers in them, weekly. They look forward to something special just for them. Since feeling guilty for having a child with special needs is the worst kept secret us moms bury inside ourselves, doing small things like this for my kids helps me show them how much I love them.

You can actually look forward to summer. Follow these tips and add some of your own. You’ll make it work and have fun in the process.

Remember: Less is more. Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.

Question: What tips would you add to make this a positive summer for you and your special needs child?

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