The Benefits And Drawbacks Of Summer Break For Students With Disabilities

Summertime breaks can be a wonderful and challenging time for any student, but for children with special needs, it can have many specific benefits and drawbacks. Each child is different in the way they’ll react to an extended break from school and their daily routine, and consultations with the child’s in-school team are always recommended.


Summer break offers an opportunity to work through any “walls” students with behavioral or intellectual disabilities might experience from school overload. The day-to-day work and atmosphere in classrooms can be overwhelming for some children with special needs, and a summer break enables them to relax and reflect on the educational experience they had, preparing them for the beginning of a new year in the fall.

Along with relaxation, summer break brings unique opportunities to learn and develop social skills. New educational and social experiences can happen at the park, or during family vacations and other outings where children can freely and organically practice appropriate interactions. These opportunities can help improve their understanding of social cues through situations that would not typically happen in a structured classroom.

Parents who wish to provide educational and social opportunities for their child (or are concerned about a loss of knowledge and skills over summer break) can consult with teachers or therapists to find engaging summer activities and exercises. Keeping up with an educational routine can provide stability and can help smooth the transition back to school in the fall.


On the other side of the discussion, there can be drawbacks to an extended break from school. Whether it’s a regression in behavior and social skills (such as classroom etiquette or waiting their turn) or a struggle to cope with a change in routine, summer break can cause unique difficulties for some children with intellectual and behavioral disabilities.

Regression can be a real concern for parents. Consistent instruction ends with the school year, and retention of instructional information can be a challenge over the summer. In addition to instruction, skills acquired by being in the classroom might relapse to some degree throughout the break. This change in routine could be disruptive to a child with special needs, and they may find it difficult to convert back to a classroom setting, such as sitting at a desk for extended periods of time or adapting back to a classroom routine.

In addition to the regression of academic and social skills, students could also experience a break from their in-school therapies, such as speech or occupational therapy. Parents can consult with the in-school team for work that can be done at home over the summer, or substitute sessions to continue the skill building outside of school.


Families of children with special needs can research in-school opportunities like extended school year services or summer classes, or out-of-school experiences like day camps, to discover what is right for their students and best weigh their choices.

The important thing to remember is that all children respond to breaks differently, and the best way to gauge how they’ll handle the summer is to discuss the options with your in-school team and healthcare providers.


Pathways is one of the largest national providers of accessible, outcome-based behavioral and mental health services. Pathways of Pennsylvania has been serving communities in Pennsylvania since 1981, and is comprised of four companies: Children’s Behavioral Health, Inc., Pathways Community Services, LLC, Raystown Developmental Services, Inc., and The ReDCo Group, Inc. We believe every individual has a right to lead a meaningful and positive life, and we are changing lives, one day at a time.