man reading book to girl sitting in tent

Summer Slide and Learning Disabilities

Written By Katherine Swarts
Read Time 3 Minutes

When school vacation starts, so do parental worries about “summer slide”—the extended-time-off effect by which too many kids forget what they learned the previous year. And if your children have learning disabilities, the thought of two or three months without trained instruction can be especially frightening.

Fortunately, society today is aware of special needs, and inclusive or learning-disability-specific summer programs are easier to find than ever before. Collect starter ideas from your child’s counselors, your religious congregation, your local library or community center, and your friends who have children with similar disabilities.

Exploring Options

The next step is to ask your children about their preferences. It’s misguided and insulting to make decisions without input from the person most affected, regardless of their communications or intellectual limitations. (Everyone has some ability to form and express opinions: if you doubt it, ask any delivery room nurse about newborns who scream until moved into personally comfortable sleeping positions.)

If you and your child aren’t sure of the best program, consider:

Man reading book to girl
  • Favorite hobbies, leisure activities, school subjects, books, apps, and other media
  • The child’s comfort zone with external stimuli, tight-vs.-open spaces, overnight stays, etc.
  • The pros and cons of a program designed for children with disabilities, vs. the pros and cons of a program with more general participation

Also, whether the program venue is physical or virtual, bring your child to check it out in advance. While public spaces are built for universal accessibility, foreseeing every individual need is difficult, and you may want to request additional accommodations. 

Avoid Being Overprotective

It may happen that your child is interested in a program that you doubt he or she is ready for. Beware of saying an automatic “no” in the name of saving the child from frustration: learning always involves some “failing” and trying again, and limiting children’s room to grow is rarely in their best interests. Consider:

  • What’s the worst thing, really, that could happen if your child enters this program?
  • Does the program have a record of effectively accommodating learning disabilities?
  • Is a trial period available before you commit to a whole season?
  • Have you discussed any concerns with your child’s therapist or another objective third party?

If your child is prone to unrealistic expectations and meltdowns, you may particularly dread a challenging new program. Yes, your child probably will come home in tears of frustration after the first few sessions, wailing, “I want to quit!” Don’t waste energy worrying about this in advance. When it happens, handle it the way you would a bad day at school: let your child cry on your shoulder for a while, then administer some special “together time” while gently encouraging the child to brainstorm ideas for handling the situation and pushing forward.

Bring Learning Home

Not all learning experiences come from organized programs: in fact, it’s much better that they don’t, and that not every week of the summer is crammed with preplanned activities. Kids, like adults, need down time and break periods.

Between (or in place of) organized activities, you can combine learning with fun and family time:

  • Visit the library and borrow an armload of independent reading.
  • Take the kids to a museum, nature center, or zoo.
  • Play board games or do puzzles.
  • Explore crafts and new hobbies.
  • Encourage physical activities, too: what’s good for the body is good for the brain.
  • Wherever possible, let the kids lead the way in choosing activities and generating ideas. The best kind of learning teaches people to think for themselves!


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