There are always opportunities for community outings, but it seems like summer is a peak season for unstructured community outings. Family barbecues, parades, beach outings, you name it. Parents I know spend a lot of time, energy and effort building up structures around our days and weeks; weekends take more effort than weekdays because of school and other programming, but summer seems to take even more effort.
A year ago Autism Bulletin published How to Plan a Community Outing with Your Autistic Child, and the points for parents outlined there continue to be valuable. Please take a look and let me know, either through comments at the end of this post, or via e-mail at michaelsgoldberg AT yahoo.com, if you have additional suggestions. I also write these articles with the understanding, and explicit acknowledgment here, that every child is different, has his or her own unique issues and conditions that represent both opportunities and challenges for a successful community outing.
With all that said, and from what I have learned by experience over the past year, I would add the following points to the article linked above:
* The more you prepare yourself, and your child for what to expect, the better. If it's going to be a noisy parade, with fire engines and clowns and horses and marching bands, look for ways -- in words, photos and videos if easily available -- to share that information with your child.
* If something unexpected happens, make a show of shrugging it off. Hey, they squirted water at us from the parade float! That's OK! Let's go dry off and then we'll have more fun! It may not work, you may not recover, but then again, you might.
* If you have resources available to hire help, try it. This means hiring for an hour or two a teacher from school or ABA services provider or someone else who knows your child -- and someone who understands autism and knows how to shape positive behaviors. If community outings, a visit to an important family event at a house of worship or even a sibling's birthday party is important to your family, it's worth getting assistance to make it a success. There's no problem in introducing your family's friend to other friends and relatives if it makes the outing more enjoyable for your child and more relaxing for you.
* Take stock, have some perspective on where you've been. Think about where your family was a year ago, what you could do and what you didn't dare do. Where did you go last year at this time? Where was the last public setting meltdown, and what were the circumstances? Have you tried to do that kind of thing again more recently? Was it the same experience or was it different? How? Why?
I hope for everyone reading this that when you think about those questions you will find some positive signs, some reassurance that your efforts are paying off.
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