The Importance of Routines During Break for Young Adults with Autism

For most neurotypical high school and college students, school breaks are an opportunity to trade studying and deadlines for gaming and sleeping in. However, for neurodivergent students such as those with autism and other learning differences, extended breaks can break important routines, be detrimental to progress, and can lead to difficult transitions back to work and school.


In our work at CIP's transition programs supporting young adults on the autism spectrum, it’s a pattern we’ve seen countless times. But there is a way to break the cycle while students are home during breaks. 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, young people with autism often become accustomed to a set schedule. Typically getting up at the same time Monday-Friday, and the majority of their day is scheduled with school and after-school activities. Secondly, there are clear social rules and expectations that school or related routines provide, which can relieve anxiety and create a foundation for improved executive functioning strategies.


A third area that is affected is the maintenance of living spaces. Students typically have a designated area for studying. They benefit from an organizational system to be able to maintain their independent living skills or complete and to organize and keep track of their academic programs and progress. By implementing strategies that provide a consistent experience in these three areas above, parents can help set their young adults up for easier transitions to and from breaks of routines.  


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 the workforce is very important. A habit and related system 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 following a schedule and 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, and parents are tempted to "give them a break from their normal routines". This can make the transition back to school or work extremely difficult because their sleep cycles have been shifted so drastically. In addition, this can affect an individual in other ways including their medication schedule, meal schedule, etc. Parents should consider working with their students to set consistent sleep schedules.


Hygiene Tasks - This includes taking a 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 early in the evening. In the morning, these would be stimulating activities like eating breakfast and light exercise such as a walk, bike ride, or run. 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 have made into routines at a school or program like CIP. Keep in mind as well that transitions can also be great opportunities for flexing one's abilities and cognitive flexibility. Just be sure to find the right balance for you and your young adult.



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, keeping in touch online… 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. Consider planning ahead for the week and building a schedule of social events. This helps reduce anxiety and builds excitement for fun and interesting activities.



Some level of cleanliness and organization in one's living space is required to achieve success. An unkept and disorganized space can prevent success on multiple fronts. Cluttered and dirty spaces can also increase stress and anxiety, and in extreme cases can cause health issues. Create clear expectations to take care of personal spaces by using daily task lists. Rotate chore lists for common spaces such as doing dishes and making meals. Encourage the individual to do their own laundry and other chores that they have been doing already.


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.

About College Internship Program

The College Internship Program is a comprehensive transition program for young adults on the Autism Spectrum and with Learning Differences. Our Mission is to inspire independence and expand the foundation on which young adults with Autism, ADHD, and other Learning Differences can build happy and productive lives.