The summer holidays are here, and parents and carers are planning plenty of fun activities to enjoy with their children. While we all look forward to the sunshine, unfortunately, summer can sometimes be stressful for families caring for youngsters with special needs. The changes in routine can be upsetting for some, who may struggle to adapt. Families can also face challenges with childcare during the long summer break, when their normal routine, such as working hours, may have to be amended. If you’re looking for ideas or a little help while school’s out, try contacting your local council, charities and support groups to find out about any appropriate activities for young people with physical and mental assistance. With a little careful planning, you can devise lots of enjoyable and beneficial things for the whole family over the next few weeks. Autism A change in schedule, such as taking time off school and doing things a little differently, can be particularly stressful for a child on the autism spectrum. A lack of structure to the day can sometimes trigger changes in behaviour. Providing a sensory experience with animals can be a great solution, such as a visit to a petting zoo or farm. If you arrange your visit in advance, many leisure attractions will let you bypass the queues to avoid potential meltdowns. Meeting and stroking small animals, or riding horses and ponies, can be a calming experience, especially the rhythmic trotting of a pony. A petting zoo encourages children to interact with the small animals, creating some special memories along the way. You could also go to the cinema, as many provide discounted tickets in the summer for families with children. Choosing the right film can provide a chance to have a cosy afternoon together. Some cinemas even offer sensory-friendly screenings, also known as relaxed screenings, aimed at ASD children. They provide low lighting and quieter sounds to reduce stress, while kids can move around the auditorium, as the staff are trained in autism awareness. Check whether any other local tourist attractions offer similar relaxed sessions for children with special needs. Cerebral palsy Visiting the swimming pool is an ideal summer activity for children with cerebral palsy. It’s great fun and provides hydrotherapy – a proven form of rehabilitation, also known as aqua therapy. In recent years, research has shown hydrotherapy has a significant impact on children with cerebral palsy. Swimming can be both fun and healthy. Choose a pool that’s suitable for kids, where the water isn’t too deep, for an enjoyable afternoon. Another fun and beneficial summer activity is equine therapy. Horses have both emotional and physical benefits. Physically, riding a horse requires good posture, balance and coordination. Children with cerebral palsy can learn these skills, while improving their muscle tone, flexibility and strength. In emotional terms, this improves confidence and self-esteem. Research into equine therapy studied youngsters with cerebral palsy who were horse-rising regularly over a 12-week period. A “significant improvement” in their head and body control was noted, and they also had better upper body reaching abilities. Twelve weeks after the equine therapy course ended, the researchers found the children had still maintained the improvements. Emotionally, they had more confidence. Bonding with a horse has a positive effect on any child, as horses are particularly perceptive animals. They can often understand a rider’s needs as they get to know them better. Once the summer holidays are over, horse riding is something you and your child can continue to enjoy at weekends. Down syndrome Creating an outdoor sensory play area for a child with Down syndrome is something that pops up frequently on Google searches when looking for fun things to do. Your child may experience sensory challenges, so inventing a game that is both fun and beneficial is great for summer. Buy some basic plastic bins and fill each with different sensory-friendly textures. These can include rice, cereal, beads, pom poms, noodles and anything else you can think of. Then, add small toys and other interesting items to create sensory-friendly lucky dips. Another enjoyable hobby is doing a jigsaw puzzle. This is a great way of helping your child to overcome visual overload – while looking at a task they need to complete, it can leave them not knowing where to start. Doing a jigsaw puzzle is something a parent or carer can do with their child. A bonding activity, it can also help your child to find a starting point for a task. Gardening This is a great activity for everyone! Gardening improves physical health through exercise. It’s a brilliant way to help people with reduced mobility to better understand how to best use or strengthen their muscles. There’s also a great feeling of satisfaction at accomplishing projects in and around the garden, making it even more enjoyable. Research has found that caring for plants is great therapy and it helps to promote the learning of new skills. Getting a good night’s sleep One thing that is important to all children is getting a good night’s sleep. While the summer holidays mean a change in routine and new, fun activities, always try to put them to bed at the same time. Keep bedtime as is, so they sleep well and are ready for the next day. A specialised bed that is appropriate to their medical condition can significantly help improve a child’s sleep. It can keep them safe and comfortable during the night, particularly if they are likely to fall out of bed. A good night’s sleep is the key to feeling alert and ready to tackle the summer activities of the next day!
For more information on Accessible Summer Activities for Children with Special Needs talk to Kinderkey Healthcare Ltd
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