Soon, family and friends will be coming together to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays. School will be out, and there will be time for relaxation and celebration. I am very aware that all of that sounds very picturesque, and that reality can be quite different for most of us, especially for neurodivergent families.
Students returning home from college where they have had freedom and developed new coping mechanisms will be returning to an environment with very different rules and obligations. Sometimes the return to the old norm can be soothing and something to look forward to for both family and child. I have found working with college-age students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that this break from school can be difficult and lead to increased anxiety. I have mentioned before that expectations can lead to resentments, and being home for the holidays is an example of when this can play out. So what can we do to help with this short-term break in routine?
Slow and Steady Wins the race. There is plenty of time to play catch up on what everyone has missed over the last few months. Bombarding a student with ASD when they come in the door with a million questions can be stressful and lead to shut down. Allow time for acclimation.
Ask about new dietary changes that may have taken place. Your picky eater may have developed a taste for new things while they were off at school.
Do your best not to force interactions. On the flip side, isolation is not a good thing either. It is better to talk about the plans ahead of time, so there is time to prepare and have a clear expectation.
One of the hardest things I have seen families go through is doing their best not to judge what the college experience has been like for their loved ones. College is a time for exploration and experimentation. I am not saying that this gives anyone a free pass to do anything that they want. I am saying that having a calm conversation if there are troublesome behaviors about why they may not be the best option.
Last but not least, relax. Enjoy having time together. And then when it is time for your loved one to go back to school. Let them go. Parents of students with ASD will know precisely what I mean by that.
At Mind Works Counseling in Lubbock, Texas, take pride in specializing in working with individuals with Autism and their families to navigate today's world.
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