What to Expect When You’re Expecting…Your Student Home for Break!

It’s been a long and interesting year. Students with autism and learning differences have demonstrated their ability to adapt to changes, to take safety precautions, and to be mindful of others. They have shown their resiliency and tenacity to move forward despite the uncertainty of the last year. There is so much to celebrate!

CIP students have an opportunity to learn who they are away from their families and develop their sense of self and their own voice. Self-advocacy is one of the core concepts that we focus on at CIP. The process involves practicing and learning how to self-advocate in the most appropriate way. 


Break time at home is often an exciting time filled with fun activities, excursions, family gatherings, and quality time. It is also a time for  students to practice their self-advocacy and independent living skills. 


As you anticipate your student’s arrival home for vacation, it is natural to feel anxious about what break time will actually be like. We may hope for everything to go perfectly but typically life is filled with highs and lows. Here are a few strategies to help with your student’s transition home.


Set Expectations

Setting appropriate expectations and boundaries with your student before they return home for a long break can help ease anxiety and create a more positive environment so the whole family can enjoy each other. 

Here are a few changes you may notice when your young adult arrives back home:

  • Increased anxiety

  • Possibility of regression

  • Fatigue

  • Testing limits/argumentative

  • Self-advocating/asserting themselves

  • Social withdrawal


Positive attributes you may also notice:

  • A more mature attitude

  • Adaptability

  • Improved initiative 

  • Adult conversation/improved family relationships

  • Compromise and cognitive flexibility

  • Improved social tolerance

  • More confidence


Setting a Positive Foundation

Not all students will demonstrate all their progress but it is important to note that this is a standard aspect of the maturing process. Even though it may be a challenging time, this is part of a young adult’s process of figuring out who they are in the world and asserting their place in it. That is a positive step toward self-actualization. Here at CIP, most of our first-year students are still in the self-awareness stage of their development and it might be demonstrated through some of the frustrating behaviors mentioned above. 


Here are tips that will provide you with a few strategies to get your family break started on a positive track:

  1. Focus on the positive gains made throughout the semester.

  2. Speak to your student's advisor to see how you can support their progress. 

  3. Communicate your expectations clearly and never assume.

  4. Set clear boundaries on what is acceptable and what is not during their time at home. 

  5. Have a realistic expectation plan in place and discuss it together with your student (include household responsibilities, hygiene, gaming, social expectations, etc.). This is an opportunity to learn to negotiate and compromise. 

  6. Engage your student in a mature discussion about any life changes since they were last home. (Are they now vegetarian? Any changes in personal style?)

  7. Set up medical appointments or any other “official” business for break times. Allow time for relaxation and downtime. Be aware of your student’s need to decompress to self-regulate. 

  8. Discuss setting up volunteer opportunities in your community.

  9. Encourage your student to engage in social opportunities to help sustain the social thinking skills that they have developed throughout the semester.

  10. Be mindful of your student’s wellness routine. Finding local gyms, going on walks, and finding physical activities are good ways to keep in shape during their time away from the center. Don’t underestimate the power of mindfulness. Always include your student in the process!


Use Constructive Language

It’s important to remember to always use positive language that has a proactive tone. Family harmony is all about compromise! Work together to come up with a plan and resist the urge to “remind” (nag) them if they don’t follow through. You may have to pick your battles and then use that experience as a learning opportunity for the next break. Our students typically mature at a slower rate than their peers so if they are not demonstrating age-appropriate behavior yet, be patient as it typically will take more time than you would like or expect. Always find opportunities to praise your student on any small gains that you notice. At post-secondary programs like CIP, students work hard to learn the multitude of skills necessary to be independent. Progress may be slow but it is still there. 

About the Author: Sharona Sommer

Our presenter, Sharona Sommer has worked in the field of Special Education for over 25 years supporting students and families in various positions throughout her career. For the past 15 years, Sharona has worked in various roles at CIP including Head Student Advisor, National Director of Family Services, and currently the National Director of Learning and Development. She previously found success by founding and running her own family coaching practice, where she had the privilege of working with families with neurodiverse teens and young adults to improve their relationships and reach their personal goals. Sharona is a nationally recognized speaker on topics of supporting students with differences and their families as they prepare to transition from high school to college or work.