We all remember the childish rhyme that marks the end of the school year… “No More Teachers, No More Books, No More Teachers Funny Looks!”. I remember singing this with my friends on the last day of school on the bus for the ride home after the last day of school. I also remember the Staples commercial marking the end of the summer vacation with the Christmas song “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” playing loudly while Dad dances and the kids walk gloomily behind.

Now that I’m a parent to school aged children, not only do I sympathize with the former, but with the latter as well. But it’s not really about school per se. It’s about the routine that school provides. My house is literally defined by routines. If it’s 7:00, we’re sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast. If it’s 3:35, we’re going to the basement to play and the fights over the computer and the phones/ipod ensues. And the entire school day follows a very predictable schedule.

We are an Autism Household. Predictability is how my 5 year old twins cope with, well, everything. They don’t like surprises if the routine doesn’t account for it. They use visual schedules so they can see what comes next. When school is in session, Ballerina states daily “School, School, School, School, School, Dance” to delineate the days of the week (with the numbers of “School” reducing as Saturday’s dance class approaches). If she’s not reciting her one-word days, she recites her daily routine starting with wake up and going to the bathroom to what she will wear and how her hair will be styled, what she eats for breakfast, what she will do in school……well, you get the idea.

On June 12, school came to an end. The twins are graduating from their respective special-needs preschools and getting ready to join Big Brother at the local elementary school (for the first time, all 3 of my children will be attending the same school – something that has me VERY excited). But the routines that define their days has disappeared. Ballerina and Music Man had to wait for nearly 3 weeks before their Extended School Year (ESY) began, and that only lasts through July. We will be going to the pool daily (the twins will [hopefully] be taking daily swimming lessons and Big Brother is on the swim team), but that doesn’t happen until Dad comes home around 5pm. They are awake from 5:30-6 every morning. When they’re not in school, I needed to find ways to keep them occupied.

We also have planned for the twins to attend a 3-hour/day camp for a week each. Ballerina has attended this program before, but Music Man wasn’t eligible last summer (he wasn’t potty trained until February). This summer they will be attending together, in theory. However, if Music Man isn’t enjoying it, I won’t force him to go. We’ll give the remainder of the days to Ballerina because we know she will enjoy it.

I’m REALLY hoping these swim lessons really take off. If they are at all competent swimmers, we will be spending almost every day in August at the pool. Once they don’t need to be clinging to a parent because they’re comfortable, I can bring the 3 kids to the pool myself and we can all have fun (I was never fond of swimming laps, but I LOVE to play in the pool). The only thing I know for sure is that this summer needs to be better than last summer. I worked hard to minimize behavior regressions in my twins but they spent much of the final third of the summer not doing much because, with the intense heat and humidity that plagued our area last August, going outside made me feel ill. These kids deserve better!

My twins (who are my youngest kids) are 5 years old. By this time, I would have expected them to be more capable of entertaining themselves. But they really aren’t. Autism has them wanting to play destructively (to themselves and to the toys [and my house]) so I can’t afford to take my eyes off them for any more than a minute or two. So, in order to make it easier in August, I plan to set up a sort of “home school” this summer – we will have a routine that we follow every day. Our morning routine will be the same as it is all year long. Then we will do some game. Then we will read a book (Big Brother will likely be reading his Diary Of A Wimpy Kid book that he chose to read this summer and the twins, well, we’ll find something – perhaps they will read to me [they are both capable of reading books written for 2nd graders]). We’ll talk about what we read so they can start learning basic reading comprehension concepts. Then they can play some more. Then we’ll have lunch and Big Brother can practice the guitar while the twins and I work on writing – I can pick up a kindergarten workbook at Sam’s Club next time I go and we can just pull out the pages and they can complete the worksheets (Ballerina LOVES worksheets [no really, she does]). Some more playtime and then, if the swimming lessons work out, perhaps we can head to the pool for the rest of the afternoon until Dad comes home and joins us there.

In other words, ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE! That’s what our lives are like.

So, I’ve become the Dad from that commercial – counting the days until school begins again. But my kids are still kids, looking forward to summer vacation. We’ll find something to do, I’m sure. We always manage something.

Ilene is a happily married Stay-At-Home Mom to 3 children (7 year old son, 5 year old girl/boy twins) and a dog. Life took an unexpected turn when, at 26 months, the twins were both diagnosed as “on the spectrum” (later the diagnosis was refined to “Severe Autism”). After taking time to recover from this turn of events, life resumed and a blog began (My Family’s Experience With Autism).

Ilene blogs about, well, whatever feels right when she sits to write. Sometimes it’s about educating others to what it’s like raising Autistic children. Other times, she talks about Big Brother’s birthday party. Other times, she just vents about whatever is bothering her. She calls it her “publicly available online journal”.

Please feel free to share in her stories.