Shannon Des Roches Rosa

What do we do when my eleven-year-old autistic son Leo is out of school for the summer? We plan, and we keep very, very busy.

We rely heavily on visual schedules to structure Leo’s unstructured days. These can be laminated paper (below) or via iPad apps like First-Then Visual Schedule, Routinely, or ChoiceWorks. These schedules let Leo anticipate what his day will be like, and help reduce any related anxiety. Plus Leo is a visual schedule pro, and can now help put his schedules together.


We figure out what Leo likes to do. We focus on the things he likes to do that we can make happen. Leo likes swimming and hiking. He likes balls, and trampolines. We can make those things happen.


I cut out other activities, and responsibilities. Leo is an energetic, 1:1 kid, and I need to keep up with him. This is not a time for me to take on new projects at home or at work. Especially since I am an introvert, and Leo’s two sisters are also on summer break. Extrovert parents may thrive on all the action; I enjoy it but am quickly drained by intense social activities — even when the people I’m socializing with are my own children. So, I try to be careful about not doing too much. I try to stay in touch with and enjoy the present.


We plan excursions with destinations that have pay offs for Leo. He’s willing to go to a new place if it has excellent climbing or hiking potential — or has ice cream (he and his sisters have recently become acquainted with San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe).


It helps to live in an area undergoing a playground renaissance. Leo loves playgrounds, as do his sisters. He needs physical activity, craves it. As he is an exuberant boy, I choose playgrounds and times of day that are less crowded, to minimize the chance he might accidentally bowl over a toddler or two. Less crowded is also important as he’s starting to get irritated with my shadowing him; he wants more freedom, and I want him to have it.


More freedom is easier in the great outdoors, when hiking or bouldering. Though Leo does enjoy company, too. So we hang out with people who get Leo, who enjoy his company, who like to do what he likes to do. It helps to have a built-in set of cousins nearby. 


It’s not always easy for Leo to be out of school, and he still gets frustrated from time to time. But for the most part, if we can plan our days so Leo stays active and busy, he’s happy and so are we.


What are your own strategies for staying even-keeled during the summer?