For kids on the autism spectrum who need structure – how much is enough, versus too much?
It’s a worthwhile question that arose out of a lovely group hike I sponsored yesterday with a wonderful teacher-participant. After many years when unstructured time devolved into inappropriate pursuits like public nakedness, refrigerator raids or masturbation, our boys live a very scheduled life. I always thought this was a good thing but as we approach age 22 and at some point, living elsewhere – I kind of wonder if it’s time to loosen up.
My twins represent the two sides of the coin about now.
Jeff seems to enjoy his free time and when bored with one activity, jump-starts readily to the next without asking. Rarely does it bridge into the realm of inappropriateness, although last summer I did create a video model on “asking Mom to leave the porch when you want to go outside.” Our prevocational forays keep him pretty busy about six days of the week now. Hmmmm.
Will, on the other hand, lately is bored after dinner when it’s free time-time, and I’m seeing multiple bolts up to his room to disrobe and lay naked while doing a host of repetitive fine motor tasks I’d categorize as non-learning focused, repetitive stimmy-play, or in some cases – like tearing the pages of books and magazine, or rooting through Mom and Dad’s drawers and bureaus – trashing behavior that’s irritating and definitely not to be encouraged. He has 4 days of caregivers’ attention Mon- Thurs after school, then a 5th day of in the community time with me – all followed by free time each evening. Jeff seems to enjoy his evening free time, while Will’s not coping with it well now. Hmmmm.
Finding the best balance of structure and free time seems a little elusive. I have all kinds of thoughts, here in the middle of the work day when I should be doing about 50 other things. – Time for some deeper reflection, and the kind of closely listening to my kids and their behaviors that may be tough at first (especially when I’m perpetually under rested like now), but that always brings us to a better place.
Answers, dear readers?