Summer regression is always a concern, especially for those within the autism community. With the lack of built-in instructional time, students tend to lose skills or slow down growth, sometimes significantly. Traditionally, to combat this yearly occurrence, parents search out extended school year programs, one-on-one tutors, and education-based camps.
Unfortunately, those programs may not be as prevalent this year. That is already coupled with additional months being out of an educational setting. As a result, what’s becoming known as the COVID regression is a real concern.
As a parent, who likely has another job to focus on, the task of educating your child and avoiding these possible setbacks can be overwhelming and disheartening. However, by taking a few minutes to create a plan with your child, you can combat this learning regression while still having plenty of time to do what you still need to do.
Establish a Predictable Routine
For any child, a predictable routine establishes security. A child likes to know exactly what is coming next and what to expect from the day. For a child on the spectrum, routine is even more necessary. Change, especially sudden change, is hard for any child; for children on the spectrum, change requires major mental adjustment. Of course, as a parent of a child on the spectrum, you know the importance of maintaining a structure at home. Holding on to that structure in the midst of our current world in chaos can create a predictable safe haven for your child.
Keeping a calendar with your child has multiple benefits. The calendar becomes an agreed upon place to mark upcoming plans and review the following day’s plans. Even if those plans are what you are making for dinner or which outdoor activity you are doing, if it’s important to your child, it should be on the calendar. Filling in the calendar together can have additional benefits, as it restores some element of control in an uncontrollable situation. For a younger child, a daily chart with matching pictures can have the same effect.
If your child has a difficult time adjusting to sudden change, and the activity you planned is weather-dependent, create an alternative. Make sure your child is aware of the alternative, or think of one with your child. Like most families right now, yours has probably experienced its share of disappointment and cancelled events over the past few months. Getting in the habit of safe “back-up” plans could help avoid potential conflicts.
When there is a structure or routine in place, severe regression is less likely. When a child feels safe and secure, they are suddenly more open to engage in learning activities. Cooperation perseveres over constant battles. They are also more willing to express themselves, clueing you into what actually helps them learn and motivates them to engage.
Read Independently and Together
Often, reading teachers are told to read along with their students during independent reading time. Modeling reading in that way is more likely to create a positive environment around books. Reading is also a highly effective way to avoid regression. Every subject in school requires it, it builds vocabulary and helps with verbal skills, and it gives even the shyest students a subject about which they can talk to others.
Getting your child in the habit of reading a little bit every day can build confidence for the classroom in the future and build skills to use right now. If it’s not already a routine, it may be a struggle at first but make it a goal to work towards. Reading develops language skills, communication skills, and listening skills, all of which are essential to the development of a child on the spectrum.
If your child is more of a reluctant reader, be sure to make it a fun experience. Follow your child’s interest. If they want to read the driver’s manual or an article about sinkholes, or if they want to read the latest popular young adult novel, encourage them. Read next to them something of your choosing: an article online, a book you’re in the middle of, or a document for work. Then, talk about what you read afterward. Just twenty minutes of focused reading time, modeling, and discussion each day can improve your child’s skills in surprising ways.
Teach Real World Skills
It’s likely been a long time since you were in school and you never signed up for being an elementary or secondary teacher. However, you still have a wealth of knowledge to offer your child. Luckily, many activities that can work against skills regression are things you do all the time.
Before you go grocery shopping, look on the store’s website and give your child a budget. Allow them to choose a few items to meet that budget. Or, give them a pre-written grocery list to see whether everything fits in your own family budget. Have them help cook, learning fractions and the importance of following directions while doing it. Cooking can also be a great teacher of trial and error and practicing over time.
As parents of students on the spectrum, it is easy to get concerned about IEP progress and learning objectives. However, taking time for learning valuable life skills, and incorporating some academics while doing it, can have tremendous benefits. The bonding time with family will create comfort, and the child will gain confidence in their newfound ability to help the family’s daily life.
Focus on What You Can Control
So much is out of our control right now. We know children on the spectrum are particularly vulnerable to regression. We know it’s a constant fear, in years past but now more than ever. Knowing all this, however, we have to keep in mind what we actually can control: the environment our child is in and the opportunities they have within those parameters.
Having conversations with your child and including them in the process of setting aside a learning time every day is something you both can have control over. This is likely the first time they are able to truly self-direct their education. For the time being, follow what motivates them. Recognize what makes them feel safe and open for learning. Find out what they’ve always wanted to learn. That way, whenever we do reopen schools, your child is armed with new skills and the confidence of someone who has learned.
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Gersh Autism has over 30 years of experience changing the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.
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