Every teen needs a break during the summer from the routine and the stress of middle or high school. But for teens with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), the need is even more intense. During the school year, a child with AS must attend to two curricula: the academic and the social. It’s exhausting and mastering the social curricula requires continual effort. By the time school ends and summer starts, teens with AS often feel depleted.
Schedule Structured and Unstructured Time
According to Brenda Dater, Director of Child and Teen Services at Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE), determining the best mix of structured and unstructured time for the summer is a balancing act. “The right percentage of each for one teen with AS is very different than for another. You need to make sure your teen gets what he or she needs to recharge.”
To help figure out summer plans, Dater suggests painting the big picture view of summer with your teen. Outline the number of weeks between school years, and plot out major activities such as family vacation, visits to relatives, structured programs, and unstructured time—making sure to note activities important to your son or daughter.
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Dater breaks down structured time into three broad categories of practical experience:
- Job skills-employment, and
- Life skills.
Setting Priorities and Gaining Buy-in
Determining the focus for structured time during the summer requires a clear understanding of a teen’s goals. Dater explains with an example, “If your teen wants to go to college and live in the dorms, then discuss what skills are needed to make that happen. A live-away from home summer experience is likely in order.”
“It is impossible to make mandates with teens, so use data to ensure buy-in and show teens the necessary roadmap to achieve their goals,” advises Dater. Data can take the form of information provided by impartial third parties.
Dater explains with another example, “If your teens wants to be a computer programmer and states that programmers don’t need social skills, find professional programmers to speak to your teen about their interactions with others on the job.” Facts depersonalize conflict and eliminate perceptions that parents want their teen with AS to be someone he or she is not.
Once teens and parents have landed on the desired developmental summer experience, the next challenge is evaluating program options. Would a therapeutic program designed specifically for teens with AS or a “regular”/integrated program be better?
Dater counsels parents to take the lead from their teens, but also to speak to program directors. When assessing a therapeutic program, Dater advises making sure the program provides opportunities for teens to apply what they have learned in a controlled environment to the real world. And when assessing an integrated program, ensure that the staff understands how to work with teens with AS. Finally, Dater encourages parents to let their teens’ needs, interests, and tolerances guide selection.
AANE, located in Watertown, Massachusetts, offers free assistance to parents of teens with AS. If you have questions or need advice, please call 617.393.3824 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.