Springtime brings many joys—as well as a unique set of challenges—to children with autism and their families and caregivers. The warmer weather and longer days beckon children to come out and play. It offers the chance to burn off some energy, get more exercise, interact with other kids in a fun, casual environment and just have fun. At the same time, outdoor play exposes children with allergies to all kinds of environmental triggers. Plus, any kind of change in routine with new sensory experiences can be stressful for children with autism.

Karen Yosmanovich, M.Ed., BCBA, LBS, Clinical Manager, Potential, reminds parents that spring is a wonderful time to engage your child with autism in new activities. All it takes is a little extra planning, education, and awareness.

Three ways to prepare your child with autism for spring:

  1. Identify and manage seasonal allergies
  2. Incorporate safe outdoor recreational activities
  3. Plan for changes in schedules/routines

“I personally think that the longer days allow more opportunities for social interactions if your child has “I personally think that the longer days allow more opportunities for social interactions,” Yosmanovich says. “If your child has communication gaps, consider how you might provide support such as incorporating visuals or coaching them before an event. If your child experiences allergy symptoms, consider getting him or her tested so you can be aware of the specific triggers and how to best combat them”

Identify and Manage Seasonal Allergies

If your child experiences such common allergy symptoms as sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes and coughing, you may want to consider allergy testing. Allergies are one of the most common medical conditions affecting all children in the U.S., and many studies have found that children with autism are more likely to have an allergy. Keep in mind that more than 5.2 million children, or over 7 percent of all children in the U.S., have hay fever or allergic rhinitis, which can be particularly troublesome this time of year.

Common triggers such as tree pollen, grass pollen, and weed pollen are most prevalent during the months your child is most likely to be playing outdoors. Because symptoms of seasonal allergies are similar to the common cold and other viruses including COVID-19, but the management of the conditions is different, it’s important to identify the cause.

“If you have any suspicion that your child with autism has an allergy, consider getting them tested,” says Yosmanovich. “Look for symptoms and behavior changes. Because many individuals with autism have communication difficulties, they may not be able to articulate their symptoms or how bad they are. Be mindful of the impact not feeling well could have on behavior.”

If it is discovered that your child has allergies, you can plan your springtime activities accordingly. “It’s easy to check the pollen counts and air quality reports each day. If they are especially high, you may want to limit outdoor activities that day or give your child medicine to help manage their symptoms. It’s also a good idea to shower after spending time outdoors on high pollen count days. And always talk to your child’s physician for advice and treatment options,” she says.

Incorporate Safe Outdoor Recreational Activities

Being outdoors is great for kids overall. It encourages movement, socialization and inclusion, mastery of a number of general skills, creativity and so much more that can boost a child’s sense of well-being and self-confidence. But there are challenges to be managed, exposure to allergens being just one of them. “Some children with autism are more sensitive to temperature, especially excessively warm or cold days. Some are more sensitive to really bright days,” Yosmanovich explains. “These are things to watch for when outdoors. It’s also important to note that some children are more sensitive to pain and yet may not acknowledge it for several minutes.”

Keep a cautious eye on your child when they are playing outdoors. If they fall or are injured in any way, your observations may be the first clue that they are hurt. Yosmanovich also advises that your child with autism needs to memorize your phone number and also carry some kind of card with your phone number on it—so that if they are separated from you or their caregiver, you can be found.

“Kids love being outside and moving their bodies. It is good for them; getting more fresh air and exercise during the day can help them sleep better at night. It’s a chance to learn different skills and interact with other people. The benefits outweigh the effort in most cases,” she says. Spring is a great time to plan more outdoor activities and prepare for whatever changes summer may bring. Be sure to check out the May newsletter for tips on choosing a summer camp for your child with autism.

Plan for Changes in Schedules and Routines

Springtime brings schedule changes as well as weather changes, and often new people and unfamiliar settings. This year in particular, as things reopen, you may find you are going out more; attending family functions; celebrating holidays, weddings and graduations; going on vacation; and so forth. Changes in your normal daily routine can be unsettling to children with autism. Just being aware of that and planning ahead can make all the difference in the world.

“If you are planning to visit family for one of the spring holidays, set up a plan in advance of the occasion. Let your family and your child know what to expect so they can be set up for success,” Yosmanovich adds. “If you are going to a restaurant, you may want to call ahead to make sure they have at least one thing your child loves on the menu. If you are going to church or synagogue, you might want to bring something they like such as a snack or an iPad.”

These are just some of the simple steps to take to ease your child’s response to a new situation. Yosmanovich likes to have a “go bag” ready with activities which may also include noise-canceling headphones or toys for if they start to fidget. “Just be sure to have things that your child finds comfortable,” she adds. “You may also want to bring along pictures of things that will promote communication, different prompts to help them along. This is especially important for kids with limited expressive language.”

With spring in the air, and summer on the way, keep in close contact with your child’s caregivers, teachers, and support network. Together, you can help make the season one of the best for your child.

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