Tips for Navigating Summer Activities for Parents of Children with Developmental Disabilities—Including Autism

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Summer is in full swing, and families are planning every variety of warm weather activities. Parents of children with autism can benefit from some tips offered by Easter Seals Midwest on how to make the most of their summer outings.

Summer is in full swing, and families are planning every variety of warm weather activities. From backyard barbecues and pool parties to trips to the zoo and family reunions, summer activities take on new meaning when a child with autism is on the invitation list. Parents of children with autism, other family members and family friends can benefit from some tips offered by Easter Seals Midwest on how to make the most of their summer outings.

Though summertime tends to be more relaxed, and open for surprise barbecues and pool invites, try to remain consistent in how you prepare your child for these activities and in your expectations for him or her during these experiences. If possible, create a visual schedule so your child can predict what is happening each day, and what events he or she has to look forward to in the future.

Always be mindful of the heat because children with autism can be more sensitive to temperatures. Consider scheduling outdoor activities early in the morning or in the evening when temperatures are typically cooler. If time in the sun is inevitable, however, remember to apply plenty of sunscreen, especially if your child is on medications that heighten sun-sensitivity.

If you’re heading to a barbecue, plan ahead and bring some favorite foods for your child in case he or she does not like the food offered at the party. Conversely, you may need to limit choices between just two or three items, because too many food options can also be overwhelming.

Parents of children with autism should also keep activities and games handy that the child can play with others such as “busy bags” or small containers with activities for a child who gets bored at parties, family functions, etc. Matching games, puzzles, coloring sheets, and fidget-type toys may be helpful to keep a child’s attention when interest in the party fades.

Swimming is a fun summer activity, but extra precaution should be taken with children with autism. Many individuals with autism love the water, yet lack the understanding of the dangers involved. Set up visual markers at the edge of the pool to provide a cue for your child as to where the water is or to show the boundaries of where he or she can or cannot swim.

When heading to a crowded place like the zoo or an amusement park, advance preparation is a definite must for parents of children with autism. First, take a picture of your child and what he or she is wearing that day. That way, if your child gets separated from your group, you have a current picture. If you do not have some sort of identification bracelet for your child to wear, write your phone number on your child’s wrist with instructions to call you, and note if your child is nonverbal or has other special considerations. Liquid bandage will help your written message stay in place for the day.

Make sure to review safety rules prior to the outing, including not leaving with a stranger. Your child also should know a parent’s or guardian’s cell phone number, or have it written on a piece of paper in his or her pocket.
Knowing these helpful hints can go a long way toward having a fun and safe summer with your family. For more summer tips, please visit

About Easter Seals Midwest
Easter Seals Midwest is a nonprofit organization that is committed to helping individuals with developmental disabilities—including autism—learn, live, work and participate in the community. The agency employs more than 1,400 staff members, operates a budget of nearly $50 million, and delivers services nearly 4,000 individuals statewide through four divisions, including Autism Services, Community Living Services, Early Childhood Services and Employment Services. For more information, please visit

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Micki Keim
Vice President, Marketing & Communications
Office: 314-394-7019 Cell: 314-791-9948

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Erika Whittaker
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