The Phoenix Center’s Stress Savers A Successful Summer

The relaxed pace of summertime and the warm weather provide wonderful opportunities for children to get increased sensory input through activities they enjoy.  However, many children with special needs thrive on consistency, routines and structure, making summer a challenging time.  The key to avoiding stressful situations in the summer is planning and preparation.  Below are some tips to help you and your family can enjoy all the summer has to offer!



Keeping regular meal times and bed times is extremely important.  With the increase in daylight it is very easy to lose track of time; however, our bodies respond best when properly fueled and rested. A picture schedule with the day’s activities is a great way to let your child know what to expect as well as keep yourself on track!



At home, sensory fun may include playing with shaving cream, fingerpaint, or sidewalk chalk, and then “erasing” the artwork with a spray bottle.  Instead of paintbrushes and paper, try painting with sticks on rocks or wood.  In addition, try adding sand to paint for a new tactile experience.



Many individuals with special needs must avoid the sun due to sensitive skin or prescription medications. Try visiting an air-conditioned place, such as a mall, library or movie theatre to get out of the house and break up the day.  Do outdoor activities early in the morning to avoid the worst heat of the day.  Look for parks and playgrounds that have an abundance of shade or water play area.



Whether it is taking a hike outdoors or walking in the mall, kids need to move during the summer. It may mean walking to McDonalds for lunch or an afternoon treat or going to the mall to buy a new toy.  Try walking from a shorter distance at first and then gradually expanding it by parking far away or walking the length of the mall. Use a “First …., Then…” board to help your child understand what to expect.



Swimming is a fantastic way to provide strong sensory input and for working on muscle strength and endurance.  The resistance water provides as a child moves through it, is a true heavy workout and can have a calming effect.  Remember that water temperature and chlorine levels differ; therefore, although a child may dislike one pool, another pool may be okay.  Indoor pools can amplify sound and trigger auditory sensitivities that outdoor pools do not.  Going to a public pool in the morning or just before closing time when it is less busy, may become an important strategy for success.  Even if your child sits on the edge of the pool, providing cups/containers for them to fill and pour is fun for them while working on eye-hand coordination and muscle strength.


At the beach, encourage your child to build with sand, walk or run along the shore, and play in the water.  For individuals with tactile defensiveness, bring digging tools, water/beach shoes, socks, extra clothes, and large blankets to control the amount of contact with the sand.



Sensory items such as putty, theraband strips, squeeze toys, a battery operated massager, a body sock, chewing gum and sour foods may be helpful.  In addition, comfort items such as a pillow, blanket, or favorite toy can ease a transition to an unfamiliar place.



If traveling by car, make frequent stops for movement breaks. Use rest stops for more than just bathroom breaks; play ball, take a few laps around the building/area and push against your parked car for input. All of these things can help regulate your child as you move on to the next leg of your journey.


If your child suffers from motion sickness, try giving them ginger in the form of candy or cookies to avoid and/or alleviate symptoms. In addition, wristbands to prevent motion sickness can be purchased at most drug stores.  Furthermore, chewing gum, pulling on a piece of theraband or listening to music or stories through headphones can also decrease motion sickness and overall restlessness.



“Tips for a Sensory Successful Summer” by Anne Trecker, M.S., OTR/L “New Developments” 12:3   (