This post is by Ethan Hirschberg, a 15-year-old who was diagnosed with autism at age two and who recently started a blog, The Journey Through Autism. Ethan's goals in life: "To have fun, get an MBA and be the founder/CEO of my own business—I'd like to run my own corporate law firm—and to make people happy!" His hobbies include martial arts, cooking and baking, writing, and hanging out with friends. Here's his honest take on the challenges he faces during summer and some advice for parents of children with autism.
This past Friday was my last day of school. I’m finally done with my freshman year! On the last day of school, kids generally feel excitement and joy (among many other things). I feel this way too. I’m excited for summer along with all of the other kids getting out from school. But, there’s a catch.
School has a set routine every day and I always know what is going to happen that day. My class schedule doesn’t change and this allows me to stay calm during a typical school day. Since I can remember, I have always needed to know the plan for the day. My summer days don’t generally have a set, routine schedule. So along with my excitement and joy, summer brings anxiety as well.
One way that I deal with this is by working at a summer camp. This camp is run through my temple and is based at a huge park. This summer will be my third consecutive summer as a staff member. I am at camp for seven weeks during the summer. At camp, I take part in structured activities. I know the routine and what comes next, and each camp session runs the same routine. This decreases my anxiety and helps to calm me down.
Because it’s a camp filled with kids, many spontaneous, unstructured moments occur. This gives me the opportunity to work on my flexibility and “go with the flow,” as my parents and providers always encourage me to do. I am also able to work with kids with ages ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade, which I love! I have always been more comfortable and better able to relate to kids younger than me. I hang out with other counselors which provides lots of opportunities for social interaction. I even get to work on my skills interacting with parents. This camp has been and still is an amazing experience. I feel “at home” when I arrive to camp and I don’t want to leave when it’s over. I know that I’m accepted and loved. I can’t wait to start the first day of staff training!
Summer has other challenges as well. When I’m not in camp, I have a lot less social interaction and my days are often unscheduled and subject to change. To help myself when I’m not at camp I try to schedule lots of plans with my best friend. When I was younger, my mom had to make these plans for me because I wouldn’t do it on my own. Now that I’m older, I can do it myself. I try to hang out with my friend at least twice a week. I don’t see him as often during the school year since he goes to another high school. We usually go out to lunch, hang out at each other’s houses, and even work on my blog from time to time. Because of the social interaction that I get with my friend and camp, I feel that I may get more social interaction during the summer time than the school year!
Another week of summer is usually spent on a family vacation. Vacations are difficult for me (which I will discuss in the next blog). So, while summer is extremely exciting and joyful, it presents whole new challenges for me. I have a break off from school and academics but this sometimes comes without a structured schedule.
My advice for parents and caregivers of autistic children is to try to have a structured schedule as much as possible. When I was younger, my parents wrote out a schedule for me every day, just like teachers did at school. Now I can look at the calendar on my iPhone to see the schedule. Some days are still subject to change, but in my opinion, reducing this severely decreases my anxiety. However, my parents still insist on periods of unstructured time and changes to the routine so that I can work on being flexible, handling changes, and controlling my emotions when these things occur.
As you can see, summer is going to be a busy time for me. I am going to be checking in on Facebook to let you know my summer highs and lows and how I deal with those, so please make sure to follow me @thejourneythroughautism on Facebook and Instagram. Have a great summer!
This post originally appeared on The Journey Through Autism.