For many people, summer season signifies fun and relaxation, warm weather, and sunshine. For most high school and college students, it’s an opportunity to trade in studying and deadlines for gaming and sleeping in. However, for students with autism and other learning differences, extended breaks can be detrimental to progress and can lead to difficult transitions back to work and school.
For those of us who help support these young adults, it’s a pattern we’ve seen countless times. But there is a way to break the cycle while students are home during the summer. Students who retain some structure over break times are more motivated and have an easier transition returning to regular school programming. Parents can set expectations for their students, maintain structure over break times, and prevent loss of progress for their students.
Identifying Daily Routines
Let’s take a step back and think about what areas of students’ day-to-day lives are affected by school or work. First of all, students become accustomed to a set schedule. High school students typically get up at the same time Monday-Friday, and the majority of their day is scheduled with school and after-school activities. This type of structure is helpful for teenagers and young adults, especially those with learning differences. Secondly, students have social expectations. Whether planned activities with friends or interactions with teachers or coworkers, students are constantly using social skills in public settings. A third area that is affected is the maintenance of living spaces. Students typically have a designated area for studying. They have to have some sort of organization to be able to complete and turn in assignments. By focusing on these three areas, parents can help set their students up for easier transitions to and from breaks.
AM and PM Routines
We’ve all heard that it is much harder to form habits than to break them, so helping students maintain healthy habits they developed in school or in the workforce is very important. A habit parents can implement in order to support their young adult is to practice AM and PM routines.
AM and PM routines include:
Consistency - This means waking up and going to bed around the same times each day. This is important for regular sleep cycles. Often times during breaks, students are tempted to stay up all night and sleep all day. This can make the transition back to school or work extremely difficult because their sleep cycles have been shifted so drastically. Parents should consider working with their students to set consistent sleep schedules.
Hygiene Tasks - This includes taking shower, brushing teeth, and putting on clean clothing. Hygiene tasks are important to maintain health and produce positive impressions on others.
Activities to Set the Mood - At night these would be relaxing activities such as reading or meditating and turning off electronics; in the morning these would be stimulating activities like eating breakfast and light exercise. Having certain activities we do each night and morning helps our minds recognize when it’s time to go to sleep or wake up.
You can help your young adult maintain the AM and PM routines they learned at school, or you can adjust them to be a bit more relaxed over the break. Just be sure there are some structures in place so they don’t break this habit.
Although everyone longs for friendship, students with autism can have difficulty making connections and maintaining friends. Over break times, it can be easier for students to isolate themselves in their bedrooms than get out and connect with others. Socializing should be encouraged over break times. This could look like making plans to meet up with peers, volunteering, attending community events… the list goes on and on. While it is valuable for students to spend time with their families, they also need to spend time with peers to grow and develop different social skills.
Some level of cleanliness and organization is required to achieve success. For high school students, those who stay organized with their school work are more likely to turn in assignments on time and receive better grades. Cluttered and dirty spaces can also increase stress and anxiety, and in extreme cases can cause health issues. Teenagers and young adults should be expected to take care of their personal spaces by completing daily tasks such as keeping their floors clear of items and throwing away trash. It can also be helpful for them to be responsible for their own dishes and laundry.
It is important for us to take care of ourselves by relaxing and doing things we enjoy. At the same time, there are responsibilities in life we must not neglect. Helping your students maintain some structure and responsibility over breaks will make a positive impact on their view of breaks and vacations long term. Holding expectations for your students will ease their transition back to school or work and will help them maintain progress they have worked so hard to attain.