Many parents of children with autism are concerned about improving social skills for their child, as this is a common struggle for kids on the spectrum. In fact, it’s one of the biggest reasons I hear for wanting to start school as early as possible, as the other children create social opportunities. When facilitated well, school can be a great way to encourage social engagement for your child. So, what about summertime when school is not in session? There are a variety of ways to keep up your child’s social skill improvement outside of school. Some of it just takes some planning.
Summer camps can be a great way to provide that social environment for your child. Potentially even more so than school, since it doesn’t focus on academics, there will be more opportunity for social skill building. It’s important to be aware that just putting kids with other kids doesn’t necessarily create a good social environment. Especially if your child does not engage independently. Fortunately, there are a variety of camps out there that cater to children with special needs or autism. Autism Speaks has some good resources for finding a summer camp for your child.
You can also think about the possibility of sending an aid or therapist to shadow your child at camp. They can help facilitate social interactions between your child and the other kids. If a camp doesn’t allow outside help, but is willing to provide some more support for your child, it may be helpful to provide them with a list of social skills your child has currently, as well as what they are working on.
You may be thinking that your child wouldn’t be into the traditional camp thing. There are so many more options out there now for kids who may not like sports camps or being outdoors. A lot of places offer robotics or construction camps where they may learn engineering if that is something your child gravitates toward. If your child is more artistic, you may want to think about arts & crafts, drama, or dance classes.
Scheduling playdates can be a great way to create social opportunities for your child in a more controlled environment. You can plan activities, keep some structure, and create experiences specifically to target those social skills your child needs to work on. For more tips on how to plan playdates and what types of skills you can work on, check out our other blogs: Planning the Playdate and Increasing Social Skills Through Playdates.
Trips to the Park
If you have a neighborhood park, there are often other kids around. This can create a great opportunity for your child to practice social skills in a low-pressure environment. Again, I would try to plan ahead and think about what types of skills you may want to work on. Is it initiating play with other kids? Is it responding to other children? Having a plan for ways to work on this will be important. Sometimes bringing a cool toy or activity that others can join in with is a great way to encourage other kids to play with your child.
Start a Park Group
If you notice the same children at the park around the same time each day, you may want to get to know their caregivers and suggest a play group. Having some consistency will help create a little more routine for your child and a more comfortable environment for engaging.
Social Skills Groups
There are a variety of social skills groups out there designed to help your child socially. You may even be able to get them covered by insurance. Social interactions amongst kids can move quickly. If your child needs to break things down a bit and perhaps revisit or re-try an interaction, social skills groups can create a supportive environment for this.
There are plenty of ways to create and encourage more social engagement outside of school. I hope you find these tips useful. You may even want to continue some of them after school is back in session for more practice. Whatever you choose, a low-pressure and supportive environment for your child is what is most important.