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For Children with Special Needs, Last Two Weeks of Summer Require Planning and Structure

August 20th, 2012

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq.

The last two weeks of summer before school starts can be a challenging time for all parents, particularly for parents of children with disabilities. Although many families savor the last weeks of summer and enjoy relaxing time with their children, many parents do not have the resources to take vacation time or have work obligations.  Except in rare cases, school district extended year programs and most camps have ended.  It’s important to engage your child these last two weeks to ensure that he or she is ready for school,  does not regress and begins with a positive mind set.

Here are five tips for making the most of the last two weeks of summer:

1. Make sure your child has adequate supervision if you cannot be at home all day. New York State law sets no specific rule on when children may remain alone, and the decision to leave a child alone will be dependent on the child’s maturity level, the period of time left alone and the child’s needs.  The  United States Department of Health and Human Services has published a Fact Sheet with guidelines.  Safety comes first, so if you have any doubts about whether your child may remain alone, do not leave your child.   Whatever your child’s age, if he or she has a disability, planning some daily supervision for your child is essential, even for teenagers, who often need as much or more support than younger children.  Left without any supervision or structure, many will simply play computer or video games all day, which can lead to social isolation, impaired attention and other problems.  If you must work outside the home and cannot arrange child care, look for help from friends and family, such as grandparents or aunts or uncles.  Of course, some children with disabilities, should never be left along, no matter what their ages, including but not limited to: children with intellectual disabilities, children with depression, anxiety or emotional disabilities, or children with medical conditions that require monitoring.

2. Plan some structure for your child. You’ll want to ensure that your child does not regress in the last two weeks of summer, whether socially, emotionally or academically. While this time is supposed to be relaxing, it should also contain enough structure to help retention of some skills. Make sure you read to your child, or if your child is an independent reader, monitor reading and schedule trips to the library or book store.   To help with social adjustment,  schedule playdates with classmates, if this has not occurred already.  Plan daily activities with your child.  If parents have the time, these last two weeks of summer can be a great time to plan visits to museums, plays or to enjoy outdoor activities.   Even though you may not be able to take a formal vacation, you can plan activities in the day or “mystery trips” if your child likes surprises. If you have to work outside during the day, plan activities for the evening, such as outdoor concerts or trips to the bookstore.

3. Engage your child in getting ready for school. Talk to your child about the upcoming school year in a positive way and discuss any changes that will occur this year.  If your child is newly classified or beginning a new program or school, be sure to take time to talk to him or her about it.  You can check with your school district on whether the program will be available for a visit.  Of course, it’s important to get all needed school supplies.  Bring your child along on the trip to allow him or her to make choices.

4. Review IEP or Section 504 Plan. Review your child’s IEP or Section 504 plan to make sure that it is appropriate and complete.   Pay close attention to your child’s placement, related services and accommodations, as well as his or her present levels of academic achievement, functional performance and learning characteristics.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act requires your school district to have your child’s IEP in place before the beginning of the school year, so if you have not received your child’s final IEP, email or write a letter to your school district.

5. Notify school district of any changes or new reports. Consider whether there are any changes in your child’s achievement or level of functioning–whether positive or negative– from over the summer and notify your school district. If you have received formal reports or evaluations from over the summer, whether from camp staff or from physicians, let your school district know and send them  the reports.

Most importantly, focus on the positives of beginning a new school year and enjoy some down time without becoming anxious or stressed. Your anxiety will impact your child, so, even if things are not perfect, relax and savor the last weeks of summer before school schedule takes over.

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