The past two summers where I live, the temperatures got up to 110 degrees, record-highs for Washington State. The first summer, I had no AC, and for both summers, when that heat hit, I had to sleep on an inflatable mattress downstairs. It reminded me that I really don’t like summer, even though it was once my favorite season. It was great to be out of school, but as an adult, I can’t enjoy that benefit anymore. There are other reasons that summer can be a particularly tough time of the year for others on the autism spectrum like me. Summer is a time for:
- Intense heat
- Sun getting in your eyes
- Remembering to hydrate
- Remembering to put on sunscreen
- Remembering to put on bug spray
- Large crowds in public places
- Loud beaches, parks, concerts, etc.
Then there are vacations, which include:
- Long car rides
- Long plane rides
- Adjusting to a different time zone
- Sleeping in a bed different from your own
- Lost sleep
- Plans changing last-minute
Then there’s summer camp, which includes:
- Heavily athletic games
- Big emphasis on teamwork
- Getting thrown around by water toys
- Hyperactive counselors with megaphones
- Moving around while screaming to the camp’s theme song
- Never hearing ahead of time what the day’s schedule will be, and other “surprises” and “mysteries” meant to be fun (even the lights-out time can be intentionally left a mystery until it happens)
These items could potentially trigger a meltdown from an autistic child. So what might be good autism-friendly summer places to go? Well, here are ten ideas for both kids and adults:
- A Big, Open Beach
A couple of summers ago during late August, I went on an overnight trip to Ocean Shores, Washington, and it was a nice, big, cool beach on the Pacific. Without the heat or the large crowds, it was a pleasant time there as I walked in long sleeves, taking in the beautiful scenery at both dusk and dawn.
- Visit a Beach at Low-Tide
Early at dawn when the tide is at its lowest, a kid could get excited from lifting up a rock and seeing a dozen little crabs. Autistic kids usually understand animals better than humans, so spending a morning at a beach discovering aquatic life is a fantastic way to enjoy the beach before the heat and crowds arrive.
- Whale Watching
Whale watching can often feel like a vacation since the outing is usually a day-long commitment, with a boat ride that is far away from home, and long. Even without the whales, there are plenty of relaxing, pretty sights over the ocean. This is another suitable activity for autistic kids that’s good when trying to avoid big noisy crowds.
- Bring the Family Dog
Bringing the family dog on family road trips could keep your autistic child from developing anxiety attacks, especially if the dog is certified as an emotional support animal. Lots of places, including Disney parks, warmly welcome service dogs, so having your four-legged member of the family can be greatly beneficial, especially since dogs can sense early on when their owners are distressed.
Give your kids a booklet of birds in the area to look out for, and they can be kept busy all afternoon trying to complete this scavenger hunt in a nice, shady forest (albeit not one too full of hills or difficult trails). It’s also a nice hobby that encourages kids to stay still and listen to nature.
- Go to the Zoo
Summer is the best season for zoo trips, and it can be an oddly comforting environment for people with autism because of the wide-open walking areas and the presence of animals. It would be especially great if you visited a zoo with a petting area because feeling a fuzzy goat can be quite therapeutic for autistic children.
- Berry Picking
Berry picking can be a nice quiet activity where you’re surrounded by the wonderful smells of strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries. The best part is when you’re done, you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor (pardon the pun) by eating a pie made from the berries you just picked fresh off the bush!
- Log Cabins
Carrying your stuff on your back for hours to then sleep inside a tent may not be your cup of tea, but with a log cabin, you’re surrounded by nature without the tent camping discomforts. A cabin always has an actual bathroom, a setup to make good food, and a warm bed.
- Tent in the Backyard
Or if you do like tents, here’s a fun idea: put up a tent in your backyard! That way, you can enjoy the outdoors in a controlled environment. You can sing campfire songs, make s’mores, tell ghost stories, watch the stars, and sleep in a hammock. Best of all, home is just a few steps away, giving you the freedom to use your bathroom and get stuff from your kitchen.
- Conventions, Theme Parks, etc.
Most kids with autism have a special interest (or an intense encyclopedic interest in a particular area). So if your autistic child loves Disney, take them to Disneyland! Even with the extreme heat, crowds, and loud noises, the Disney brand should motivate them to have fun. It’s also worth noting that Disney Park employees have an excellent reputation for helping guests with special needs.
Now, one last thing to know is that there’s no such thing as a universally autism-friendly environment; what may be very relaxing to one autistic person could be sensory overload to another. Not all of the options I listed above will make your autistic child 100% happy, some kids with autism may have zero tolerance for seasickness while others may have no problems with being at a loud concert that lasts until midnight. At the end of the day, the summer experience is whatever you make it; while it may take some creativity, you can have fun this summer no matter what your ability.