Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that causes impairment of social interaction, as well as repetitive behaviors and interests. More than 3.5 million Americans live with ASD. Difficulty with social interactions can include inconsistent eye contact, limited use of gestures, and trouble forming and maintaining friendships. Repetitive behaviors can include spending hours lining up toys, showing interest in a very restricted range of topics, and demonstrating sensory likes and dislikes. The range of abilities and challenges among individuals with ASD is broad and varies a lot. It includes individuals who may remain nonverbal and require lifelong care, as well as individuals who go on to higher education and professional careers. Everyone with ASD has unique talents, challenges and personality traits that must be considered when planning for their education and care. For children with autism, structure is very important. To prepare for the end of school and ensure a successful transition to summer, parents should plan to maintain their child’s routine. They should look for opportunities for social interaction with their peers. Play dates are encouraged, but should be short (less than 2 hours), structured and closely supervised.
Academic skills can backslide in younger children. Make the skills they learned during the school year part of their summer routine. Parents with verbal children should talk to them about things they can look forward to and be excited about. Parents of nonverbal children should make a visual schedule and show them places they’ll go and things they’ll do.
Children with autism may go to many therapies during the school year. Parents should make sure they continue those, but realize a break or lapse is OK. It’s important to relax and have fun during the summer! Cone Health has an exceptional, comprehensive network of pediatricians, behavioral and neurodevelopmental specialists, pediatric neurologists and other related health care providers dedicated to treating children with autism throughout the community.
Jenna Mendelson, PhD, is a licensed psychologist at LeBauer HealthCare at Oak Ridge and Summerfield Village, and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. Mendelson specializes in developmental disabilities, especially autism spectrum disorders (ASD). She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She completed a fellowship at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development and an internship with the Marcus Autism Center at Emory University/Children’s Hospital of Atlanta.