Structure, Routine, and the Summer Collapse

Early on, during the preschool  years, I realized how critical structure and routine were for my son.  This was pre-diagnosis.  I did not know about Asperger’s or autism then.  I knew that my son thrived in an environment where the rules and expectations were clear and consistent.  I knew that he fell apart when the boundaries were blurred, when he did not know what was coming, when the structure was non-existent.

Once diagnosis, therapy, and maintenance became a part of our everyday lives, our family incorporated a variety of tools to help ease my son through the day.  Charts, diagrams, planners, and calendars have been integral.  As a toddler or as a teenager, he does best when he knows what to expect from the day, and when the changes in routine are minimal.  Each year feels like two-steps forward.  Each Summer, like one-step back.

The school year has its own challenges, and there are stressors involved with peer interaction, social expectations, and academic requirements.  But the days are, for the most part, structured.  He knows what to expect during the school day and knows what will follow at home.  The routine is pretty much the same.  School, homework, structured activities, family and friend time.  While we have moved on from needing diagrams to remind us about brushing teeth and hair, we still count on the monthly calendar and daily schedule to keep things flowing smoothly.  Weekends are sometimes challenging because of the lack of routine, but they also generally provide a good wind-down and decompression time before the weekly activities begin again.

Summer changes everything.  The first couple of weeks tend to be a great time to decompress after a long year of school.  Playing hooky from activities is fun for the whole family.  But, inevitably, it does not take long before the lack of structure and routine begin to take a toll.  We try to get back to some normalcy… there are still structured activities and plenty of family and friend time.  But my work schedule is different, there is a sibling and another parent at home all the time, friends are often out of town or unavailable for unstructured play, and trying to provide the ‘bubble’ environment is much more difficult, if not impossible.  Teenagers love their video games.  While that can be relaxing and a good break from sensory overload, it just as often leads to frustration and meltdowns and a whole different type of sensory overload.

Sometimes it feels like a losing battle.  Finding activities to fill the days, especially on a limited budget, feels like an impossible task.  Mid-Summer begins the ‘when does school start?’ countdown.  It is time for the routine and structure to return and for the cycle to begin all over again.

About the Author

Tara O'Gorman

Tara O'Gorman

Tara O’Gorman, MSW, is an independent consultant and advocate for individuals and families living with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and provides consulting for organizations working within the ASD community. She is a group facilitator for adolescents and young adults with ASD and is a proud mom to two sons, including an Asperger’s teenager.

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