266: A Summertime Plan that Can Work for Everyone, with Penny Williams

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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In this episode of Beautifully Complex, we’re focusing on making summertime rewarding and manageable for neurodiverse families. I’ll guide you through a summer plan that encompasses structured activities, personal growth, and meaningful connections.

This episode is packed with strategies starting with how to create an adaptable visual plan using tools like a Post-it calendar or a Mighty & Bright schedule board, perfect for kids who find comfort in visual aids and might struggle with schedule changes.

Then, we move into exploration — encouraging our kids to follow their interests and passions, which is crucial for their confidence and sense of belonging in the world. Whether through specialized camps like SOAR or simple nature walks, exposure to new experiences is key.

We also discuss growth through just-right challenges that push kids slightly out of their comfort zones to build resilience, but not so far that it isn’t doable for them. Whether it's working on a complex project or trying a new sport, it's about finding that sweet spot of challenge that is both challenging and attainable.

Lastly, connection remains a cornerstone of our discussion, emphasizing the importance of cultivating strong bonds with our kids. This summer, let’s lean into activities that strengthen our relationships and foster communal growth.

Remember, parenting is more about nurturing relationships than just managing tasks. Let’s dive into this summer with intention and joy.

3 Key Takeaways


Structured Visual Planning: Use tools like a Post-it calendar or a Mighty and Bright schedule board to help neurodivergent kids navigate their time effectively, reducing issues like time blindness and providing a tangible sense of time.


Encourage Exploration and Growth: Summer offers an excellent opportunity for kids to explore their interests and passions, which can be crucial for building their confidence and sense of purpose. Engaging in activities like summer camps designed for neurodivergent kids or setting challenges that are appropriately tough but achievable can promote growth and resilience. Activities should be chosen that push the child enough to grow but not so much as to overwhelm them, fostering a sense of accomplishment.


Foster Connection: Strong connections are essential. Use summertime to strengthen family bonds and encourage social interactions.

What You'll Learn

Planning for Summer: You'll learn how to create a visual yet flexible schedule to help manage your child's summer days to mitigate time blindness and build flexibility.

Exploration of Interests: Allow your child time to explore their talents, interests, and passions. This includes suggesting activities or topics they want to learn more about, and it could involve setting up experiences like attending a specialized summer camp.

Growth Through Challenges: Incorporate ‘just right challenges' into your child’s summer. These are challenges that push them slightly but remain doable.

Build Connection: You'll learn strategies to foster deeper connections with your child and help them connect with others. This involves organizing activities that foster your bond and finding ways to include friends and extended family in your plans.

Manage Demands and Free Play: You'll understand the significance of balancing structured activities with downtime and free play, which is vital for a child's development and well-being, particularly for neurodivergent kids.


Some of the resources may be affiliate links, meaning I receive a commission (at no cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.

Mighty & Bright visual schedules and reminders

Time Timer a timer that makes time visual

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Work with me to level up your parenting — online parent training and coaching  for neurodiverse families.


Penny Williams [00:00:03]: Our kids need time to explore. They need the opportunity to explore what they're interested in. You know, I've talked here before about tips, talents, interests, passions. We need to be always providing opportunities for our kids to explore, their talents, their interests, and their passions. That's how they build confidence and confidence. That's how they feel like they have a place in the world and a purpose and that they're good at something. Welcome to the Beautifully Complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams.

Penny Williams [00:00:43]: I'm a parenting coach, author, and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started. Hey, friends. Welcome back. I am going to talk to you a little bit about summertime in this episode because I know that as this episode is coming out, we're starting to get to the end of the school year, and many of us know that summertime can be difficult, difficult for kids, difficult for parents. So I just wanna provide you with some really good strategies that we have found personally helpful over the years for summertime and summer break. You know, for me, I always looked forward to summer break because it was a break from the trauma of school. It was a break for my kid, and it was a break for me.

Penny Williams [00:01:40]: It was really, really stressful for us, and so I looked forward to it. I know that sort of mainstream, a lot of people are like, no. It's summer, and they dread it because they might have to entertain bored kids or deal with boredom, or that they don't get a break from their kids. You know, if you're a stay at home parent, you might have your kids 247 over summer, and, you know, every human being needs a break from things at times. Right? It's not that you don't love your kid. It's just that you need a break. We all do. And so summertime can be difficult for a myriad of reasons.

Penny Williams [00:02:17]: And even if you are looking forward to it, even if it's a break from the stress, there are things you can do to make it go as smoothly as possible, and that's what I wanna outline for you here. So we're gonna talk about 4 different strategies for summertime. 1st is plan. 2nd, explore. 3rd, grow. And 4, connect. These are both things that we wanna be sure that we are doing for our kids, and also things that are going to make it easier. They are going to result in less stress, less boredom, and less acting out, less of that acting out, freaking out, or zoning out.

Penny Williams [00:03:05]: Right? Fewer meltdowns, fewer emotional outbursts. These are strategies that can help with all of that. So let's first talk about planning. I want you to make a plan, and I want you to make it visual for your kid. I used to use a post it calendar when my son was younger, and I'm going to tell you why that specific calendar in a minute. But also now there is a company called mighty and bright that creates visual schedules, visual routines, lots of great tools for making plans and making things visual for our kids, and I highly recommend it. Everything that I recommend here in this episode, you're gonna be able to find a link to in the show notes at the end of the episode, but I will go ahead and tell you they're at parentingadhdinautism.com/266 for episode 266. So we're making a plan.

Penny Williams [00:04:05]: We're making it visual. We're gonna use either a post it calendar or a mighty and bright schedule board, and the reason for those particular recommendations is that they are easily changeable. Plans change. Right? I remember all the time over the summer, we had planned to get together with another kid or another family, we'd plan to go to the swimming pool, you know, different things, and inevitably, sometimes plans had to change. Sometimes our friends would cancel or reschedule. Sometimes a thunderstorm would pop up and we couldn't go to the pool that afternoon, And those changes were very difficult for my kid because of time blindness, which sort of felt like now or not now. We talk about this concept a lot. When we talk about ADHD, everything feels like it's either now, right this minute, or it's never going to happen, and that was certainly true for my kid.

Penny Williams [00:05:05]: Plus he had no concept of time, so that time blindness was making things very difficult too because when it was gonna happen that day, that was way more tangible. When something got put off, it felt to him like it was never going to happen. So when we made that calendar both visual, but also we made activities movable, I was able to work with him on things that get postponed, what that means, how many days, you know, that post it calendar, we could pull the post note off one day, put it on the next day, move it over, count it out, you know, help him to see where that was moving to, and then it was still in his near future. That post it calendar, by the way, was weekly. I believe the mighty and bright kits for the schedule are also weekly, and so that was what was really helpful to us. Trying to look at anything bigger picture than that was really difficult. If we had a family vacation or something like that, we could talk about, you know, how many weeks maybe were left until vacation, things like that, or we could talk about what we were gonna do on vacation, but I focused weekly, and then I also focused daily. So on weekly, what I want you to do is make the plan together.

Penny Williams [00:06:25]: I want you to sit down once a week with your kids, put together the visual schedule for the week, have them physically participate with you. If you're using the Post it, write out, you know, the swimming pool with John, and then give it to your kid and say, okay. We're doing this Wednesday at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. Show me where you would put that on the calendar, because we also wanna use these activities as skill building. So say you hand that post it or you hand that magnet if you're using the mighty and bright or another sort of kit that helps you with visual schedules. So you could say, here's when we're meeting your friend at the swimming pool, Wednesday, 1 PM. Right? Let's count how many days until that happens. So your kid has put it on the calendar.

Penny Williams [00:07:19]: You've talked about where it goes. They've got it in the right spot. You can say, okay. Show me where today is. Maybe it's Monday. Okay. Here's where we are right now. Alright.

Penny Williams [00:07:28]: Count how many days until we're gonna meet John at the pool. 1, 2. 2 days. Okay. So that's coming up pretty soon, you know, and you can talk about that timetable with your kid because it is a struggle for so many of our kids. If it isn't a struggle for your kid, you're still working on planning, organizing skills, you're working on a lot of executive functioning skills here, so I still would do it. Maybe just don't emphasize the timing as much as you might if your kid is really struggling with the concept of time or time blindness. Now here's why I recommend this and why it's so good for our kids.

Penny Williams [00:08:12]: It helps them to learn to plan, as I just said. It helps to mitigate that time blindness issue, which for us led to a lot of meltdowns, so it reduces meltdowns. And it also helped to build flexibility because they could see that not now didn't necessarily mean never. So it helped to build that skill flexibility as well. It also gives your kids a sense of ownership and control, and those senses of ownership and control change everything. They change everything. So you're gonna get more buy in from your kid, you're gonna get more flexibility from them, and it's just going to add a layer of ease to what is going on. Now we also got together each morning when the kids got up, and we looked at what our day was gonna be like.

Penny Williams [00:09:05]: We looked at that visual schedule, and we talked about what that day was going to look like for all of us. Where's mom? Where's dad? Where am I going? Where is my brother or sister going? Right? I was fortunate enough that I had a flexible schedule. At the time, I was not doing the work that I need to do now full time, but I still was able to set my own schedule. And so sometimes they were spending the afternoon with grandma because mom was going to work, and it changed because my schedule for that particular type of work really was very fluctuating, and so it was really critical for us to sit down and look at that. Dad's schedule was very predictable. Every day, he went to the same job rate, and he went for roughly the same hours. But for me, it was very different, and so my kids really needed to know when they were with me, when they were with grandma, what was going on. Right? And so looking at it every morning was very helpful for them to understand what was coming up, and, you know, for my son to sort of get okay with what was happening that day.

Penny Williams [00:10:17]: Right? Because maybe there were some things that weren't his choosing, and we had already filled out the calendar for this week. So we've already talked once about what was gonna happen, and he already had some time to sort of get used to that idea if it was a non preferred task, like going to the doctor or something like that. I want you to also make sure that you're making time for downtime and free play. It is very, very important to our kids' development that they have free play. It is also really important for neurodivergent kids to have lower demands, and the summer can be a really good time, a really good opportunity to lower your demands on your kids. So make sure that you are giving them time for free play. Don't over schedule. Whatever you do, please don't over schedule because all that does is add stress for both you and your kid.

Penny Williams [00:11:18]: It does not help anyone. I know that there are a lot of interventions and therapies and tutoring and activities that your kids are interested in, but you can't do everything because no one enjoys it. You can't enjoy anything if you're trying to do everything. So make sure that you're building in time for downtime for everyone. You know, one other tool that I wanna mention around planning and time blindness is the time timer. It's something that we used a lot because my son, as I said, had a lot of time blindness, and time needed to be more tangible for him, And the time timer, I'm gonna put 1 on the screen here for you to see it if you're watching this as a video, but it has a red dial that overlays the face of the clock, and it overlays for the amount of time. So maybe it's 15 minutes, so you're gonna have a red shaded area over 15 minutes, and it disappears in sync with time disappearing so that kids who don't have a good concept of time can sort of see it, and it's really helpful especially with transitions for us. And again, I'll link that up in the show notes for you, but I wanted to mention that one too.

Penny Williams [00:12:43]: You know, I searched high and low starting out because it was so long ago, and there was very little online for, at the time, ADHD, and so I was constantly finding products and trying them out. And these are the things that were really helpful for us over the summer break to sort of mitigate some of the things that were really challenging at that time. So let's talk about number 2, explore. Our kids need time to explore. They need the opportunity to explore what they're interested in. You know, I've talked here before about tips, talents, interests, passions. We need to be always providing opportunities for our kids to explore their talents, their interests, and their passions. That's how they build confidence and competence.

Penny Williams [00:13:30]: That's how they feel like they have a place in the world and a purpose, and that they're good at something, and the summertime can often just allow more opportunities for that exploration. Ask your kids what they wanna do over the summer, what topics do they maybe want to explore and learn more about, What activities might they want to do? What do they wanna try or do more of? I know it's cliche, but you also have to get your kids outside. We have science that proves that sunshine and greenery help our kids' brains. They also help with sleep. They also help with our physical well-being. So we need time outside for our kids. I know this is difficult for a lot of families and a lot of kids, even if it's only 15 minutes a day, even if it's only 15 minutes a week starting out, start somewhere and just encourage them to spend a little time, and then sort of broaden that window of tolerance for them, because not every kid loves to be outside. My kid had a giant fear of bees when he was younger because there had been some bees in my mom's car.

Penny Williams [00:14:49]: She didn't know it, and she was driving the kids somewhere, and they had gotten on the sweat on his neck and stung him repeatedly before she realized what was happening, and after that he had a huge huge fear of bees, and anytime we're outside, the first time he saw a bee, we were done being outside. Right? So, you know, we're gonna talk about just right challenge in a minute, and that is one of those areas. If it's tough for your kid, give them that just right challenge. So just a little bit to start out is better than none at all. Don't harp on them about the fact that they should be spending more time outside. Just get them out there a little bit, and then encourage those activities as you go with as low of a demand as you can possibly give. Right? The other thing that helps our kids explore during the summer, and we probably did this as kids too, is summer camp. If your kid is open and willing and you have the means to do summer camp, there's some amazing camps for neurodivergent kids out there.

Penny Williams [00:15:50]: The one that I know that I have been recommending for more than a decade is SOAR. Their base camp is here in North Carolina. It's actually one county over for me, about 30 or 40 minutes from my home. Beautiful setting here in the mountains. They also have camps in other areas, Wyoming, California, I believe, and they do a lot of traveling, so there are camps for the older kids where they're going to the Florida Keys and all sorts of places. So it's an outdoor adventure camp, which normally I would shy away from because I'm not the most outdoorsy person, but there's a reason for it. And the structure of that program is fantastic, especially for kids who struggle with discomfort and pushing through hard things and learning that they can do something that's hard, and it can be okay. So I highly recommend SOAR, and I will link it up in the show notes.

Penny Williams [00:16:51]: We did their family weekend. I think it's been about 12 years ago now, and it was amazing. Completely amazing. Helped even challenge my own anxiety, so I strongly recommend that one in particular, but any camp, I think, for neurodivergent kids will be a pretty good match in general and really helpful. Number 3, our 3rd sort of strategy for summertime, is growth. I want you to add just right challenge to what you and your kid are doing during the summers. They need to be able to learn that they can do hard things, and very often, our neurodivergent kids really avoid doing hard things, and so we have to sort of plan it. We have to schedule it.

Penny Williams [00:17:43]: We have to make time for it. We have to be very purposeful and intentional with helping them build this skill. So it can be done in a 1000000 different ways. Right? Be creative, Lean into whatever your kid is interested in. Some ideas would maybe be a complex LEGO set that might take days or weeks to finish. Trying riding lessons if your kid is really sort of anxious because horses might be big or scary to them, You know, trying something that they would normally just avoid because it seems too unpredictable or too anxiety provoking or just too hard. Right? Maybe building a dog house for your family pet out in the backyard. It can be anything, again, as long as it's challenging, but also doable.

Penny Williams [00:18:34]: And that's what I mean by just right challenge, which is something that I think Vydovsky came up with many years ago in psychology, and it just means that kids have sort of that window of tolerance. We all do. And if you don't push at all, there's no growth. They stay stuck and stagnant in the same place. So if things are super easy for them, they're not gonna grow. But if you push way too far and it's not doable at all, we basically break our kids. Right? We see meltdowns. We see them internalizing bad feelings about themselves and blaming themselves, all things that we don't want.

Penny Williams [00:19:17]: So what we need is that just right challenge in that window in between where something's challenging, it's pushing them, but it is doable. Whether doable by itself or doable with some accommodation or some support, but it is doable. That is a just right challenge. That is gonna help your kid grow in those skills. Right? Being less avoidant, being able to try things, to have that grit and resilience that we really want our kids to have. Last item to talk about for summer, my last strategy, is connection. Connection is everything, folks. Connection is what we need as human beings to be able to feel good and do good.

Penny Williams [00:20:04]: Connection means we're regulated. Connection means that we're feeling good emotionally. We're feeling good socially. We're feeling good in our family if we're talking about connection among family members or that parent child connection. I was just interviewing doctor Adam Price for the next episode after this one, and he said parenting isn't a skill. It's a relationship. And that really hit home for me, just in using that language around it. Our relationship with our kids is everything.

Penny Williams [00:20:41]: It guides everything, so it has to be your top priority. So when we're talking about summer, how do you build in activities, time to make connection, to build that bond, and to also help them connect with others, whether it's a sibling or a friend or even another adult, like a mentor or someone for maybe teens or older kids, how do you build in time for those activities? Because it's very, very, very important. And, again, a lot of times over the summer, we have more opportunity for that. Even if, you know, you're 2 working parents, maybe you're taking a vacation, and you can really focus on connection during that family vacation. We have talked in detail about specific connection activities and ideas in past episodes here on Beautifully Complex, and so I'm gonna link those up in the show notes for you as well. I'm not gonna take the time to go into those again because you may already have a good list of ideas. I just wanna encourage you to do more of that for summer because it's really going to help in all aspects. And well beyond summer, everything that I have talked about here, note, it all is gonna help you well beyond summer.

Penny Williams [00:22:02]: We're talking about building skills. We're talking about building connection. We're talking about finding our kids' passions and interests and purpose. We're talking about validating their interests. Right? All of these things are gonna help well beyond the summer months. So I hope that you'll sit down, make a plan kind of for the whole summer, but also make plans with your kids each week and review it with them each day and get out there and explore and connect and grow because that's what they need from us most, and that's really what you need most too. I promise. It does sound like maybe I'm asking you to do a little bit more.

Penny Williams [00:22:43]: There is more planning here, but what I'm really asking you to do is just show up with purpose and intention, and everything else is gonna fall into place from there. So again, those show notes with all of these links to the different products that I recommended, the episodes on connection are at parentingadhdandautism.com/266 for episode 266, and I really hope that you'll go over there and take advantage of the fact that I've been there and these are tried and true resources. And I will see everyone on the next episode. Take good care. Thanks for joining me on the Beautifully Complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share, and don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingadhdandautism.com and at thebehaviorrevolution.com.

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That's what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

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