Summer Programs For Children With Special Needs
The school year is coming to a close within a few short months and as a parent, decisions need to be made as to what your child’s options will be for the summer months.
The purpose of this article is to highlight what options are out there. This does not include every possible activity but certainly touches upon many that you may feel would be appropriate for your child.
Children with special needs should be enrolled in at least one program during the summer months, as this time can become an opportunity for regression.
The progress that your child hopefully has made during the year should be built upon during the summer while addressing all if not most of the skills that were learned. Transitioning to the summer is difficult for children with special needs as they get accustomed to the same schedule during the school year and therefore are aware of the expectations and the order in which they occur.
Remember, any change for a child with special needs is that much more magnified in difficulty than that of a regular education child.
However, the transition does not have to be so traumatizing as there are many programs out there throughout the country that allow for the skills learned in school to be continued. Additionally, these programs have individuals who are trained educationally to work with these kids and work with them well.
1. Equestrian Therapy
This therapy is also known as equine therapy or equine-assisted therapy. This therapy uses horses to help children grow emotionally. Equestrian therapy is used for many different diagnosis. It is particularly helpful with individuals who have been diagnosed with autism, dementia, down syndrome, behavior, mental health issues, delays in mental development as well as brain injury patients.
Therapeutic riding contributes to many positive aspects in regards to the emotional and social well being of individuals with specials needs, no matter what their age is. Just because an individual has difficulties, it does preclude them from horseback riding. The rhythmic motion of riding is extremely beneficial as it mimics an individual walking. It is has been shown that individuals with special needs, specifically, physical disabilities, have improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength.
If you decide on placing your child in this type of program, please ensure, especially for new riders, that the establishment provides a horse leader as well as 2 individuals who walk along the horse on either side. These individuals are usually called sidewalks or a derivative thereof. This not only makes it safer but it will cut down on any anxiety associated with participating in a new experience.
2. Summer Enrichment
This is recommended by your child’s teacher for a number of reasons. If your child is not up to grade level, this could be a “catch up” time to better prepare them for the upcoming school year. It also serves as a review for work that already has been introduced but perhaps your child had difficulty within certain areas.
Additionally, it serves as a piece to address the cohesiveness of the academic year. A break during the summer months, unfortunately for many children with special needs becomes a time when they regress. Their schedule has changed not only in regards to the academic piece but for the socializing piece as well. Their “routine” has been disrupted and for children with special needs, any change is detrimental. This can cause regression academically, behaviorally and socially.
Keep in mind, change for many of us young and older individuals, can be difficult to come to terms with however for a child with special needs that difficulty is magnified exponentially and therefore anything that can be done to help the transition move as smoothly as possible is especially important.
3. At-Home Summer Services
In my many years of working as an Educational Consultant and Special Needs Advocate, I have found that although a child needs summer services, Summer Enrichment is not the correct fit.
Let me offer an option that has worked and fits well with the many children and families that I have worked with. Your child may be lagging behind and not up to grade level however sending them to the school building may be frustrating for them over the summer months. It may feel as though it is a continuation of all the demands that are put on them during the formal school year.
However, I have found that if the CSE approves this particular option, it has far exceeded the positives when correctly administered. Ask the CSE if a teacher can come to your home for a specific amount of weeks (I recommend 6 weeks) for 4 days a week. I would request that the teacher comes 2-3 hours a day. This allows for the child to receive intensive help in areas that are weak and therefore better prepare them for the upcoming school year.
If your child is doing well and is performing on grade level but just needs some review from the school year that was just completed, then the teacher could focus on those areas. In addition to working on this, they can pre-teach the materials that will be covered for the upcoming school year. This allows the child to be introduced to the curriculum prior to September. It allows them to practice the topic so when it is introduced within the classroom at the beginning of school, it is not as foreign and they are able to tackle the curriculum with pride and hopefully with a reduced amount of anxiety.
Although many teachers do work during the few weeks teaching the Summer Enrichment Program, there are teachers who are willing and actually prefer to go to a child’s home to teach.
Additionally, it allows the child to be in their familiar surroundings, feel more relaxed, secure and less anxious which in turn provides for a substantially positive learning environment.
Not only does the teacher work on the academics but they should reinforce all of the concepts via games, manipulatives, music, etc. This piece the child will remember the most and when they are asked in school to pull from their existing knowledge, these are the concepts that will stick out in their mind.
4. Art Classes
There are many activities covered with different instruments (paint, brushes, markers, etc).
Here are some activities that you can do at home with your child:
Crayons: Allows children to express themselves with drawings and coloring
Spray Paint: If the weather is warm, a great activity
Popsicle Stick: Spreading Paint with a Popsicle Stick
Tissue Paper Butterflies: Children create a butterfly with tissue paper
Fruit and Veggie Prints: Cut fruit in pieces (half, quarter, etc.) and dip in paint
Hands: Use handprints to make personalized objects
Sponge Painting: Children can use sponges as painting tools
5. Music Classes
Most kids love music, whether it be to dance to, play to, sing to, etc. It is fun and allows the children to express themselves without judgement. Additionally, it helps with coordination, listening skills as well as allowing them to be silly and show a side of themselves that may not be seen very often as so many demands are always placed on them. These classes allow them to say “free to be me.”
Whether it is soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc. these sports give the child a time to show off perhaps their strong skills in a certain area. There are many programs that allow children with physical and mental disabilities to play baseball in a non-competitive and supportive environment. There are soccer programs that use buddies to assist the players as needed. There are also programs that give people with physical and developmental disabilities the chance to play ice hockey in an environment that is non threatening. The environment is adapted to the individuals level and ability.
Swimming lessons provides children with vital skills to help with survival. Swimming is a great activity, especially for children with special needs as it allows them to have fun in a non-competitive environment. Swimming is also a great activity because it lets the child feel as though they are “equal” to others in the water. It is a great family activity as everyone can share in the day.
Swimming consists of many benefits however some of the most important is that it boosts physical activity level, helps to develop self-confidence, build self-esteem and it teaches a life saving skill. Each time a child kicks, it builds muscle tone and strength. It also helps with balance, coordination and developing motor skills. Swimming also helps with range of motion as being buoyant in the water reduces the restrictions on the body. Learning to swim helps develop spatial awareness well. Drowning is the one of the leading causes of death for children with autism.
The benefits are immeasurable in regards to enrolling your child within a martial arts school. It teaches not only structure but discipline as well. Martial arts provides a competition within the child not with others. Other benefits include the consistency and repetition of learning the “moves.” Additionally, it helps with and works on focus, concentration, balance, tone, awareness, self regulation, core strength, reduced anxiety and spatial awareness.
Depending on their level of ability, children will be able to attempt many activities. As their parent, you are the best judge, as you know your child best, as to what your child is capable of. One of the most important things to remember is to have patience and always encourage your child to do as much as they can and to do it on their own. There is a great amount of satisfaction that an individual gains with being able to complete tasks on their own. Another important point is to always keep in mind that the level of ability should match the child.
Do not place your child within an activity that far exceeds what they are able to accomplish at that particular point in time.
This will only cause a great deal of anxiety, frustration, behavioral and mental anguish.
That is not to say that you should not place your child within a level that is slightly higher than what they are used to. You always want your child to be challenged, not frustrated. Also, placing your child within a level slightly higher will allow them to benefit from modeling of the other children that are able to succeed. These other children can help your child not only with the task at hand but can provide a great socialization piece that may last beyond the activity.
Always be supportive!
For children with visual impairments, tactile activities are a must!
The most important advice that I can offer you is - do your homework!
For any activity that you decide to enroll your child in, ask a lot of questions. Make a list so you don’t overlook anything. Bring that list with you. Also, I have never come across a program that did not allow the parents to come and visit one time to see exactly how it is run. You should also request to meet the staff of the class that you will possibly enroll your child in so you can get a “feel” as how things will go. Bring your child with you so they can meet the individuals that they will directly have contact with as well as become familiar with the surroundings so the first day will not be so intimidating.
Most importantly, have a wonderful summer!
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