Four Tips for Autism Families Managing Down Time Before School Starts

Autism Speaks staff member J-Jaye Hurley shares strategies she uses in her house to help her family stay happy during summer down time!

This is a post by J-Jaye Hurley, proud mother to Jackson (age 9) and Reese (age 2).  Jackson was diagnosed at age 2 with severe ASD, in addition to numerous other medical conditions over the years.  For the past 3+ years, J-Jaye has served as Autism Speaks Southeast region Autism Response Team Coordinator. Jackson and Reesie Dee have kept the Hurley family quite busy this summer and J-Jaye is currently looking forward to BACK TO SCHOOL time! 

My son loves all things summer. Jackson is an avid swimmer and wants to go to our subdivision pool each day. He loves swinging in our fenced in backyard, filling up buckets with water, running in the sprinkler, and playing in his sand and water table. Summer breaks provide time away from the rapid pace of the school year; however, the lack of schedule, predictability and full day school programs can present as huge challenges for children on the spectrum and their families. While many children with autism attend a summer Extended School Year (ESY) program or summer camp, there are still “down times” between these programs and the beginning of your school year. Here are some strategies we use in our house to help our family stay sane and happy during these times:

Use Visual Schedules

Even though the activities may change in the summer, Jackson still needs to have his visual reminders of what comes next. Letting him know that his summer activities still follow a schedule even between summer programs and school gives him some reassurance and reduces meltdowns by knowing what he has to do later that day. We can also use a visual timer on our smart phones to let him know that he only has 5 more minutes to swing on his swing or play in the sprinkler. Jackson uses a communication device which allows us to take pictures of new activities or places and quickly insert them into his schedule. Parents can also download images from the internet on their mobile phones when new places or changes occur as well.

Find Respite Care/Increase Therapy Time

Because of the down time in his schedule and with both parents working, it is important to keep his day busy whether it is with additional ABA sessions, community outings, special needs camp or respite care. We utilize ALL of the above during the summer down time. Working with his team on creative ways to keep him engaged are key and we start planning for his summer hours back before Spring Break even arrives! A bored Jackson means a Jackson who gets in trouble so I keep his calendar filled! Many communities offer free activities that can help parents fill the long days of summer with constructive play and activity.

Ask for Help

Any parent of a child on the spectrum knows that summer down time/time between ESY or camp ending and the new school year starting requires careful planning and extra help. Reach out to local family members to give you a break or to provide care during work hours. Talk to your other autism moms at a local support group to se

e if you can organize some play dates at local parks, pools or homes. Reach out to local autism organizations in your area to find community activities and events that you can participate in or send your child to as needed. You can also look for special needs babysitters utilizing online caregiving websites such as We have found many sitters over the years who were OT’s, SPED teachers, siblings, etc. who provided excellent child care during some of the summer down time.

Know that Every Day Won’t Be a “Perfect” Day

Jackson was diagnosed 7 years ago so we have been working on his summer calendar now for years. However, every summer has different challenges and some days are just harder than others, no matter how hard we plan ahead. When things go wrong, I try to focus on positive reinforcement when I can for him, including fun summer items – like bubbles or time in the sprinkler.  Sometimes popping bubbles and getting wet in the sprinkler helps me to “chill out” as well!

The good news is that even these long, dog days of summer are coming to a close and you and your kiddo can get back to your regularly scheduled hectic year of therapy, activities, and full school days – until Fall Break sneaks up on you!

To learn more about how our Autism Response Team coordinators like J-Jaye can help you find resources and information, click here!

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