I was working with a child last week who was counting down the last few days of school. His excitement was practically contagious – “Only 5 more days left!!” But then he turned to me with a look of confusion on his face. “Wait, how many more days left of you?” (Aw, shucks, kids sure know how to make you feel special! 😉 )
And then I had the fun job of explaining that we keep coming to occupational therapy, even in the summer. This child loves therapy, and makes excellent progress, but he was still disappointed. Like somehow he had done something wrong to still have to come to therapy over the summer.
So what are we supposed to do? Some children end up taking a break in the summer, at least while they attend other intensive camps or go on longer vacations with their families. Others stay the course as usual. Some kids ONLY come for summer therapy because their schedules are so busy during the school year. With all of these different scenarios, how do you make the most of your situation? And how do you deal with the inevitable struggles? Let’s take a look…
The Child DOESN’T Want to be Here
I’ve met children that manage to keep that “I’m annoyed that I’m here” attitude ALL. SUMMER. LONG. I’m not gonna lie, the dedication is impressive…
In all fairness, when children have been attending therapy for years, you can’t blame them if they get a little burned out, especially over the summer months. And to represent both sides, their therapist might be a little burned out as well. You get in a routine, you do your thing, and you make slow, but steady progress. However, for some children in long term therapy, taking a strategic break and coming back reenergized can actually make a big difference. The key is to talk it out with your therapist, create a strong support plan with home programming, and monitor for any significant changes.
But on the flip side, reminding a child of their progress, engaging them in meaningful activities, and providing a place for positive reinforcement can bust through that initial bummer that they have an obligation over the summer. I mean, come on, we OTs are pretty fun…
The Child Has to Leave Their Friends
My biggest advice for parents over the summer is to give their child enough time to transition away from a fun activity. I’ve seen kids come in to the clinic still wet from the pool, extremely upset that they had to leave what their friends were doing. Luckily, for the most part, it just throws off the initial transition into therapy. We can usually engage the child in something fun and rewarding that helps ease them into the rest of the session, but avoiding this situation in the first place can make for a much more pleasant transition.
Attendance is Inconsistent or Unpredictable
Ah yes, many people have the best of intentions when we talk about the summer schedule, but the follow through is often more difficult than you think. When schedules are thrown off, everyone is having a hard time waking up early, and sessions are canceled at the last minute, it sends a strange message to the child. Do they really have to go to therapy? Will they skip this week? When will they be back?
Gaps in therapy attendance can most certainly set a child back, especially when they are unexpected and unplanned. Not to mention the fact that inconsistent attendance is really just going to throw everyone off more than anything. Then you are left with this expectation that a child should still be making progress because they “do therapy,” but if they only come once or twice every 4-6 weeks, it’s most likely just going to lead to frustration for parents, children, and the therapist.
However, summer tends to bring its own challenges just by design, and I’ve seen some impressive disruptions in the schedule with holidays, family vacations, and therapist vacations that can mess up an entire month at a time! This is where planning ahead with strong home programming and engagement in extra-curriculars can help bridge the gap between weekly therapy.
Changes in Routines at Home
Summer is hard for some kids, because they lose the structure and predictability of a school day. (Remember my post about all the things that can throw a child “off”.) Also, with summer, maybe they have a different caregiver watching them, wake up or go to bed at varying times, or have to spend the day at someone else’s house. It’s a lot of change to deal with at once.
Therapy might actually help to keep a consistent routine in their week! Having something that’s the same, predictable, and helpful for them can make a big difference in their summer.
Everything is “Boring!”
Who hasn’t heard this before?! If kids are getting bored over break, sometimes it’s a great opportunity to kick it up a notch in therapy. I’ve seen some children make amazing progress by coming for more intensive 2-3x/week therapy sessions over the summer.
However, this option is really dependent upon things like medical necessity and insurance authorization, so it’s important to talk with your therapist to see if your child would be a good fit for this. Not to mention the fact that you really need to have strong, concrete goals to work on during this time. But I will say, sometimes over the summer we see a burst of new skill development that really puts a child ahead for their next school year.
Also, don’t forget that your therapist is a wonderful resource of ideas! They can help develop unique home program ideas to continue skill development in areas like fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and sensory processing skills that we don’t want to go unpracticed between school years.
And with that, my friends, welcome to summer!