Summertime Blues

“After years of agitation, our son finally seems to be more content at school,” said parents of a 14-year-old diagnosed with autism. “But now that he is home for the summer, he is reverting back to some of his explosive, agitated behavior. What can we do about this?”

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SOME THOUGHTS Although it might seem that teenagers would prefer the lazy days of summer over school, my observations over the years lead me to believe that teens actually enjoy many aspects of school – a predictable daily routine, contact with lots of other people, a variety of activities, regular physical activity, and – if they are fortunate to have enthusiastic teachers – interesting learning experiences every day. On the surface, the regular, unchanging nature of the daily schedule may appear mundane. But for some teens, and especially for many individuals functioning on the spectrum of autism, the regularity of school routine is actually less stressful than the relaxed, lazy days of summer. Contentment rises for most individuals with autism when they know what is coming next, when the structure of a predictable schedule minimizes transition issues, when they interact with a variety of people, and when they are involved in interesting experiences every day.

To help prevent the summertime blues around your house, you might consider building some structure and predictable activities into your son’s daily routine this summer. The first step you might want to consider is developing a visual daily schedule. You could use words and/or symbols to outline the day’s activities, depending on your son’s cognitive level. Before your son goes to bed each night, take a few minutes to review the schedule for the following day. Include mundane activities on the schedule such as eating meals, getting dressed, and brushing teeth. Then highlight any special events for that day such as visiting Grandmama, playing in the sprinkler, going to the zoo, or playing a game of checkers. You might also include a few household chores on the schedule, such as checking for the mail each day, giving the dog/cat water, sorting and putting away the clean silverware, or even more complex tasks depending on his level of functioning. Considering the nature of your son’s explosive behavior, you probably want to keep the schedule handy so your son can check off each activity at its conclusion, then look at the schedule to see what is coming next so there are no surprises that trigger a negative reaction. Developing a structured, predictable routine and presenting that routine with a visual schedule are the first steps in a strategy to diminish the summertime blues.

NOTE TO LISTENERS AND READERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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