Addressing the Summer Slide Through Play-Based Communication AND Self-Determination: SERIES!

Welcome to the fourth installment of Dr. Amy Hanreddy’s series on enrichment and distance learning! Every two weeks, Amy looks at specific challenges facing our kids with significant support needs, and suggests guidance, tools, and best practices from her current research and wealth of experience supporting educators and families in making education accessible to all learners.

This week, Amy talks about supporting our kids' communication needs, particularly AAC skills, through natural play-based summer activities — and addresses the importance of encouraging our kids' self-determination in everything we do.

Two weeks ago, I focused on opportunities to make books together with your child over the summer. In many circles, I am hearing talk of the “summer slide” or even the “corona slide,” referring to the assumed regression in skills that students will experience without access to traditional school settings. Certainly some skills will suffer without the routines and opportunities provided by school — but with a little creativity and planning, many traditional summer activities that families might be doing at home or in (safe, socially distanced) outdoor settings can embed practice of a range of skills that promote access and enjoyment of your time together, as well as the development of critical skills for living a self-directed life.

AAC in Summer Activities

For students with complex communication needs who are starting out with communication boards or even higher-tech communication systems (e.g., iPad, PRC), the benefits to ongoing access and modeling for how to use their communication tools are well-established, and yet, families often struggle to find ways to embed communication practice into their daily lives. During our time off from school over the summer, it might seem that there are fewer opportunities to practice using these communication supports, but I would like to challenge parents to use this time to keep communication support fun and natural. If it doesn’t feel like “work,” but rather an enjoyable way to connect with others, both children and parents are more likely to embed these tools into our daily lives. I have added several “summer” learning resources onto my Padlet to provide some inspiration in this area. 

Water play is a great way for kids to cool off and meet some sensory needs in the summer, but often more time in the water means less time with communication supports. For kids that use an iPad, there are waterproof cases available for as little as $12, which can provide some peace of mind during water play or when visiting the beach. For other water activities, creative SLPs and parents have made templates for an AAC kickboard and even AAC temporary tattoos. For an even greater “chill-out” opportunity to practice AAC modeling, check out this example of AAC modeling when watching TV. For ideas on vocabulary to use and teaching strategies, check out the communication section of the Padlet for more resources. 

Self-Determination at Home

The PACER Center describes self-determination as “believing you can control your own destiny.” Regardless of your child’s current communication or support needs, supporting their ability to have control over their own lives is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give. One way to expand on your child’s current communication while also supporting their self-determination is to ensure that opportunities for meaningful choice-making and decision-making are embedded throughout each day. The first few pages of this resource handbook focuses on these essential skills with practical ideas for how families can embed these into regular activities. 

Although your child might experience some “summer slide” related to specific academic skills prioritized in school, maintaining focus on communication and self-determination skills throughout the summer will help to promote autonomy they will build upon throughout their lifetime, regardless of the time spent in or out of school in the next academic year.


Dr. Amy Hanreddy
Associate Professor of Special Education
California State University, Northridge

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