Summer slide can happen to anyone but skill regression for neurodiverse youth can be triggered by illness, a prolonged change in routine, or no identifiable reason at all. My son’s regression started when he moved back in with me. He had graduated with honors from college and spent the summer living on his own in the city, working at a paid internship on a project close to his heart amongst other neurodiverse interns, with a mentor/coach. What an amazing opportunity! He was on his way! Or so I thought.
Why do I keep forgetting what I tell parents/caregivers all the time? Progress and skill acquisition are not linear.
Regression can trigger an array of feelings in parents and caregivers. It can also be confusing to the individual who doesn't understand why they were willing and able to demonstrate a level of skill in one setting, only for it to disappear when that setting and the circumstances change.
So, what can we as parents/caregivers do to manage summer slide or regression in general? How can we engage our young adults in the process?
1. Accept that some regression is inevitable: Given the understanding that progress is not linear, I have learned that accepting that regression is part of the process, allows me to focus all my energy on developing strategies to move forward without the emotional upheaval, headshaking and upset.
2. Establish a routine and structure: Creating a daily schedule and establishing a manageable routine are essential for getting back on track and staying on track. This includes a morning and evening routine with self-care components.Try to review at night how the day went and look at what’s on the agenda for tomorrow. Focus on the accomplishments of the day. There are apps created to teach time management, and phone reminders/alarms are helpful. However, a visual schedule and a daily to do list that can be monitored, modified and referenced throughout the day, is key.
3. Think in terms of empowerment: More often than not, capable young adults with autism will ask a parent or caregiver for guidance when presented with a decision making moment to avoid figuring it out on their own. I have theories as to what the aversion to decision making might be, but understanding the why doesn’t help empower a solution. I suggest working through the process by responding with; What do you think is best? I don’t judge, I simply throw it back and encourage making a decision. I combat fear of making a “wrong” decision with assurances that if a choice works, great! If it doesn’t, take note and adjust next time the opportunity presents itself. That’s how we learn.
4. Set up some short term SMART goals: When working together with a young adult (emphasis on the working together) to establish individual goals, SMART refers to Small, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Additionally, I’ve learned to ask and create a plan that includes how the goal is going to be approached, when and where the work will happen and how we will track progress. This takes time and
thought, but is well worth the effort.
5. Engage socially, not just virtually: Do not let regression lead to depression. Make a deal that everyday will include time to engage socially. There are many opportunities for individuals to volunteer. A library, a camp or local Y, even a museum could be viable options. Explore local maker spaces, theaters and arts and craft centers. These experiences are valuable as they can build self-confidence, support skill acquisition and
engage individuals in their local community both short term and long term.
It’s worth repeating that some skill and behavioral regression is inevitable. However, if you are prepared with a few manageable strategies, you can get to the other side of it with a positive outcome.