How to Keep Students with Special Needs Engaged During the Summer

Summertime is upon us, bringing with it poolside relaxation, beachy vacations, and trips to the ice cream parlor. While summer break is the perfect time to relax and recharge for a new academic year, these lazy months also offer some spare time to stay intellectually stimulated. Plus, being outside of the classroom offers new ways to learn, especially for students on the autism spectrum or with special needs.

What’s great about these potential activities is that they involve much more than just dusting off and opening a textbook — they engage the whole body’s senses and mind. As summer approaches, considering activating your child with some of these exercises to keep their mind and body in tiptop shape.

1 Create an indoor jungle gym

On rainy days, this is the perfect activity to keep your child stimulated. Take sofa cushions and pillows to erect a fort or tunnel and have your child crawl through it. Give them the chance to explore new textures in a safe environment. “The more senses an autistic spectrum child uses in a day the better,” says Kim Denitto, who works at the Center for Spectrum Services, a school for children on the autism spectrum in Kingston, New York. “Contact with the floor also helps children develop their senses and motor skills,” she adds.

2 Establish daily exercise

If your child thrives on structure, consider adding a daily walk into your routine. This will keep days organized and scheduled, which may be important as students, come summertime, are thrust from their usual routines. Plus, it gets you and your child to exercise together by taking a stroll through the neighborhood or a nearby park.

3 Visit the zoo

The National Institute of Health published a 2013 study that found “social behaviors increase in children with autism in the presence of animals compared to toys.” Animals, as living things, can stimulate positive social interaction, and the summer may be the perfect time to get a seasonal pass to your local or city zoo.

4 Catch a sensory-friendly Broadway play

Broadway musicals have become increasingly accessible to special-needs audiences, and that includes sensory-friendly performances. TDF is a great resource for these production calendars, and a number of today’s hottest shows — from Wicked and Aladdin to Frozen and My Fair Lady — offer autism-friendly performances where slight adjustments are made to tone down jarring sounds and lights.

5 Read, color, and paint

Grab a book you know your child will enjoy, get them coloring supplies, and have them paint outdoors under the sun. Find something that they will appreciate to pass the time, and — as always — follow your instinct and offer the activities and games your child most loves; they’ll love it even more if you share the time with them.