When people think about summer, they cheer. They have fond memories of their childhood, when school drudgery ended and fun began. They remember summer camps, lazy afternoons playing with friends by the stream or the swim club, and wobbly dives into cool lakes. It doesn’t matter that most kids don’t have those experiences of idle freedom anymore, because both parents work. Those perceptions still exist.
Between stubborn nostalgia, the powerful summer business industry, and rich people with second homes, there has been little change to school calendar with its 12-week break. I wrote an article for The Atlantic years ago making the case for a shorter summer, but it wasn’t very popular for those reasons.
As a parent of a child with autism, summers are difficult. Because I’m a big believer in keeping autistic kids super busy to stimulate neural pathways, I have to find 12 weeks of programs for Ian. Kids like Ian don’t have friends, so they need those activities to prevent them from closing themselves in their rooms, as their brains form endless of loops of obsessions and tics.
However, it is difficult to find summer programs for kids with slight problems; those kids are too disabled for typical camps, but too high functioning for programs aimed at kids with severe issues. After weeks of research, I would usually find programs, but they were expensive – at least triple the cost of a typical town recreation program – and far from home. Some years, I spent six hours per day driving him to this place and that place.
I was able to do all this driving, because I basically stopped working in summers. As a freelancer, my schedule is flexible. Besides, nobody wants to read education stories during the summer.
This summer is going to be different.
The biggest change is the lack of kiddie and teen activities. Last summer, Ian attended the school district’s summer school program, aka ESY in special ed lingo, and ID Tech Camp (a full day computer camp, which overlooks small autistic issues). He took programming classes for kids at the community college and weekly swim classes at the YMCA. He spent hours and hours practicing snare drum rolls and base drum thumps with the school’s marching band.
This year, he’ll have an hour a day, at most, of virtual classes for computer programming and music. I’m not sure if town pools will open. He’ll keep busy, I’m sure, with his usual activities — composing music, making lists of obscure details of various video games, making playlists on Spotify — but he won’t be around other kids. Will the summer make him more autistic? I’m not sure.
I’ll keep busy in my own way. I have two articles in various stages of completion that will come out in The Atlantic this summer, so I’ll need to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on those article. My vintage book business, a weekend hobby that has grown beyond expectation, will double in size, once estate sales start up again.
I often use my summer months to organize a big project or make plans for smaller ones in the fall. This week, I chose “the project.” Let me explain… In seventeen (gulp) years of blogging, I wrote a lot about raising kids, cooking, working from home, and so on, along with political and social commentary. Maybe my tips and tricks will be helpful now. With the shutdown, people have been forced to become more self-sufficient. Many are having their first experiences cooking soup, cutting their children’s hair, and cleaning their showers. A whole lot of people have never spent more than two consecutive days with their kids before. My plan is to re-write two of my old posts per week.Maybe by the end of the summer, I’ll have a book. Who knows?
While these changes are stressful, especially the fears about regressing social skills in the autistic kid, they are also exciting. I’ll have Jonah and Steve here to help out, and I have a concrete, doable work plan for myself. And like any experiment, it will be interesting to see how things turn out.
Summer starts for us tomorrow morning. School officially ends next Tuesday, but all pretense of education ended days ago. We’ll just say today is the last day of school. This afternoon, we’re packing duffle bags for a long car trip to North Carolina, where we’ll check on Steve’s folks and watch the ocean from the deck of a rental.
I hope that you all have a healthy, adventurous summer, and that we all come out the other end, smarter, happier, and stronger.
Be well! Laura