Summer learning opportunities for children with disabilities are usually planned so that academic and social skills developed during the school year remain strong, and areas that are holding them back can be modified or accommodated. Many families have expended so much energy working with their school districts to plan a positive transition to the next school year, it's difficult to change gears for planning summer activities.
For some, the hope of an extended school year program or the perfect summer camp is a welcome relief to the drudgery of the academic year. Children who have missed school due to hospitalization or illness may be offered a summer school program that allows them to fulfill requirements or 'catch up' with their classmates. Some districts may offer specialized summer programs for children with learning disabilities or intellectual challenges that also address social and self-confidence issues that have developed during previous school year.
Although the stress of the current economic situation may have reduced the availability of parks department summer programs, established daycamps and arts or sports activities often give our children the opportunity to enjoy themselves without the burden of record keeping or the urgency of reaching pre-planned goals. Sometimes children need some time off to do nothing, to enjoy themselves or try something completely different. They may prefer to stay at home with their families or respite care providers, in daycare or teen/adult day health.
Moms who are caring for a child with a chronic health condition or another high maintenance diagnosis may feel isolated and unsupported when her child and family miss reunions, graduations, weddings and funerals that may bring everyone else together during summer months, holidays, celebrations or memorial services. Please remember how difficult it is for extended family to understand your absences, especially when you are protecting them from your worst worries.
Even those who should understand completely may be protecting themselves with a form of denial, or have stresses in their own lives that cause them to forget why you take your responsibilities so seriously. You may feel the sacrifices you make more keenly during times of celebration as well as grief.
A small group of mothers across the country and around the world understand your choices, through personal experience. Other families in your local support group may not realize that you are not enrolling your child in summer programs or traveling to visit relatives or wonderful vacation destinations because of your child's special circumstances. It is especially important for you to mark special occasions and schedule fun or silly activities whenever possible, and especially during vacation months.
Kids with special needs and their mainstream brothers and sisters often remember very little about their childhood that we expect them to treasure. Even if you spend thousands of dollars on a wonderful vacation to a theme park, they might remember only the delicious melting ice cream cone bought at the spur of the moment outside the park - something they could have enjoyed at home or in the neighborhood.
For parents who have informal IEPs for their children's summer months, this is a good time to write in goals that will help them develop hobbies or pastimes that they can enjoy during visits with grandparents, cousins or neighborhood kids. Terri Mauro suggests planning a summer family project that addresses big goals for parents or children. This summer may seem like the perfect time to cut back on expensive classes or activities that will leave us feeling over-scheduled and unrested when school starts up again in the Fall.
Extreme changes can cause as much stress as overcrowded calendars, but do consider planning a few days each week or a few weeks during the summer to create lazy memories that give your children great pleasure. Take a few snapshots so you can remind your children when they are grown that they had a more fun and interesting childhood than they will remember. This may be the summer that we all learn that we are each fine just the way we are, moment to moment.
Browse at your local bookstore, public library or online retailer for ideas for educational activities, learning toys, or books like The Complete Daily Curriculum for Early Childhood: Over 1200 Easy Activities to Support Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles, orScience is Simple: Over 250 Activities for Preschoolers
The Starlight Children's Foundation reaches out to families of children and teens with serious illness throughout the USA
The 2010 Starlight Teen Prom was held at the Issaquah Holiday Inn:
Video from Evening Magazine, King5 News
Starlight Prom 2004 Seattle Post Intelligencer newspaper story:
Prom night gives these seriously ill teens a huge lift