The June Blues: End of School Year Routine = Challenging Time for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders
My 11-year-old son is having an extra tough time these days. Now that school has wrapped up until September, the daily routine that has provided structure to his days for the past 10 months is no longer in place. He’s in a no-kids-land between the familiar and the unknown.
Here's the glitch:
Summer routines are never as solid or as predictable as school year routines. The structure and the rules of summer tend to change from day to day, if not from hour to hour. That's what makes summer an idyllic time of year for most of us and treacherous territory for those who cling to routines like a life jacket.
His pacing is sending my anxiety level higher and higher. I try suggesting some activities that would normally score highly with him:
Play with your remote-control truck.
Use the shop-vac to vacuum the dirt out of my car.
Read these Charlie Brown comic books that belong to your Dad.
Make something out of all those pieces of scrap lumber you scavenged from school.
I'm doing this more for me than him. I want him to settle into something so I can settle into something. While he's restless, I'm restless.
He’s not ready to stop grieving yet. He's clinging to the memory of something that has already been lost (his comfortable-as-his-own-skin school year routine), but that he's not ready to let go of quite yet.
He walks through his daily routine for me as we drive across town on his second school-less morning.
“I get to school, sit on the bench, take off my outdoor shoes, put on my indoor shoes, take out my agenda, hang up my book bag, walk down the ramp, into the kitchen, turn left, through the doors, drop off my agenda, fill up my glass, and do my HANDLE.”
The end of school year transition that was such a non-issue for my other three kids -- kids who do not have Asperger’s syndrome -- is a very big deal for my youngest child. It's also become a very big deal for me. I spend a lot of time watching him and quietly noting what’s happening in his world, trying to puzzle how what, if anything, I can do to guide him towards those carefree days of which childhood summers are supposed to be made.
Note: Since September, our family has been participating in the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) program developed by clinical psychologist Stephen Gutstein, PhD, for families with a child on the autism spectrum. Our 11 year old son has also been participating in HANDLE since he started at his new school last September. We’re seeing a lot of positive changes in our son. I’ll be talking a bit more about these programs and our family’s experiences in future columns. For now, I just wanted to introduce you to the acronyms so you would be familiar with them when start to use them more regularly.
Photo Credit: Ann Douglas, 2009.