Summer Structure and Routine – A Necessity for Children with Special Needs

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Most parents who have a child with special needs understand how critical structure and routine can be. Not only do they provide predictability, but with that predictability comes a feeling of comfort and safety. Knowing what to expect can help calm a person who is already predisposed to anxiety, as well as help with transitions.


During the school year, this does not typically present an enormous challenge, as most of the structure and routine is provided within a school day and then the after school/evening routines. Most families tend to have typical routines during the weekend.  In summer, however, the school day is shortened, with many schools now opting for a four day week, with at least a few weeks off in the beginning and end of summer.


As tempting as it may be to use that as an opportunity to pack in all of those special activities that your child will enjoy, you may want to consider the pacing of it. Doing too many “special” activities, even favorite ones, can create too much stimulation and with it, a lack of routine which coupled with the increased stimulation, can bring a sense of anxiety and unease. Finding that perfect balance of input to create the optimal regulation is difficult under the best of circumstances, but when there is a lack of structure and routine, the difficulty increases tenfold. No matter how happy your child may be to have extra screen time, visit his or her favorite locations, or sleep in by a few extra hours, it does not mean that it’s the best option.


For younger children, a visual schedule can be invaluable to help anticipate what the day will look like. With the end of the school year right around the corner, now would be a good time to plan out how you would like your days to look, keeping in mind how much routine your child needs, how much flexibility is tolerated, and creating balance within each day. If you are unsure, check with the teachers and therapists, they are experts at providing that right mix of routine, structure, and flexibility.

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