Revisiting Summer Fun For My Non-Verbal Son With Autism

So, yeah. This year is going by pretty fast, huh? April showers bring May flowers and May flowers apparently bring Christmas because every time I blink, I feel like three weeks have gone by.

With the passing months come the school breaks, holidays, and time away from classes for my children. As my daughter grows, her schedule becomes more and more her own. Whereas her free moments used to be filled with arts and crafts that I would relentlessly Google around for, today our time together is time that she’s not off being a teenager. It creates less pressure, so that’s good. At least that’s what I tell myself. Tear.

My son, however, is a different story. Lucas is only eleven and non-verbal with autism. He doesn’t Snapchat or walk around malls. His free time is still on me to schedule.

I’ve written about letting him live his best life. While he would be more content sitting at home with an iPad to swipe, there’s a world outside his window. It’s not all a world of dread and fear. It’s teeming with fun times, great attractions, and things like that. There’s plenty to do, especially in the summer.

Summer can be annoying for parents, though. After all, it’s easy to give in to the temptation of home time when the weather outside is frightful. Snow, rain, and frigid temperatures allow all of us to have “TV days” with the kids. Free of guilt, you can happily be couch potatoes.

Those potatoes start to go bad when the sun is shining, though. The landscape is different and suddenly friends and family ask things like, “Did you guys go out today? It was beautiful.” Freakin’ friends and family. They guilt us without even knowing it.

parents kids

They’re right, though. The nice months bring a desire to do more. I want my boy to go out and do fun things. It’s just a matter of bringing him there and getting over the ghosts of bad behavior past.

One big activity that Lucas loves is swimming. That’s a big summer day for us. He loves it so much that, when the pool is in view, he desperately tries to pull me towards it. It is an infatuation I wasn’t prepared for last year.

He loves the pool so much that I can’t even bring him to the playground anymore. Located right next to the entrance to the pool, this little play area has everything a kid could want (except swings for some insane reason). When we first moved in, before he discovered the swimming area, he went there a few times. He was OK with it. No big whoop.

Bringing him to the playground after he had found the pool was a whole new experience. The swimming area had just closed for the fall when I tried bringing him back to the slides. As we approached, he saw his watery destination, now covered in tarp, and began pulling me towards it. I tried to explain to him that it was closed and we couldn’t go.

And he flipped out.

It was a tough concept to communicate. All I could do is sit on the pavement next to him and work to comfort his agitation. Like trying to get him to understand that food needs to cook or that it’s dangerous to touch a hot stove, getting Lucas to comprehend the idea that something is “closed” feels too abstract at times. It certainly did that day. Mix that with the natural disappointment a kid would feel from being denied his favorite pastime and you can understand my poor little guy’s dilemma. It’s something I took note of and something we work on.

We haven’t been back to that playground since last summer because of it. Luckily, the hot months are emerging and I’m eagerly looking forward to our chlorinated return. It is easily my favorite summer activity with him and, when she’s not Snapchatting at the mall, my daughter too.

The playground was already at a disadvantage, even without its unfortunate poolside location. The town park has always been a hit-or-miss event for my boy. We’ve had days that were amazing and days that involved him sitting in the middle of the cushy blue blacktop and refusing to move. Some of the memories are rough to revisit, which makes a return even harder to justify in my head.


I do, however, recognize that it’s been over a year since those things happened. Times change and people change. What Lucas struggled with last year were things that differed from the year before. His reactions this year, I’d imagine, will be new in some areas too.

That’s one of the most important things when it comes to raising a boy like him. It’s important to see what he did then versus what he does now.

If my son had a bad reaction to transitioning in October and the only way to fix it is to give him the iPad, that’s great. Yet, months later, it’s important to reevaluate that approach. Does he still need the iPad? Has he matured enough to go from one place to the next without that reinforcer? Maybe not, but you’ll never know if you keep holding it in front of his face as he goes from one room to the next. People grow. He’s a person. He grows.

The same can be said for his reaction to the park. Will he lay flat on his back and refuse to move? Will he try to pull me to the pool while screaming? God, I hope not. However, I’ll never know if I instead avoid the park until he’s 30. There’s only one to find out if he’s outgrown those behaviors. Bring him and try.

Will there be meltdowns? Probably. Will they persist? Hopefully not. It’s all about trying again. This year isn’t last year. The things that happened then won’t necessarily happen now. I mean, they might, but we’ll never know if we don’t return.

And, if he still can’t handle it, there’s always next summer. If he does it again then, there’s the summer after that. The trick is to never give up. If I can ask that of him, I can ask it of myself.