Feb 12, 2013 2 Share

Breaking Bad

The author with her son, Reilly, as a small boy.
Photo courtesy of Rose Donovan

Winter break was too long. And summer break is coming too soon. 

The month between mid-December and mid-January, when all three of my children were home on college break, was chock-full of celebration, family time, visits from friends and general merriment, interspersed with the sibling squabbles I haven't missed since my nest officially emptied in September. For my oldest two, the vacation was a much-needed rest from a flurry of final exams and papers. For my youngest son, Reilly, it was a month with too little of the structure that young people on the autism spectrum need in their lives. 

Reilly is 19 and in his first year of a postsecondary program for ASD students at the New York Institute of Technology. The first semester was a mix of pre-college academics and vocational and life skills training that seem to be a good fit for him now. He has friends, useful classes, and a predictable schedule on which he thrives. 

Like his older brother and sister, Reilly spent much of his winter break staying up until the wee hours of the morning playing video games, or doing whatever it is older teens and young adults do in the middle of the night, and sleeping until early afternoon. Personal grooming—never top on Reilly's to-do list—dropped to bare minimum, if that. “Why should I shower? I'm not leaving the house today,” he reasoned. “Because you smell!” I argued. Shaving? Until the end of the break, he led us to believe he had left his electric razor back at school. (And who shaves while looking into his iPhone camera instead of a bathroom mirror? Well, Reilly.)

I envisioned the break as a chance to do some trouble-shooting with Reilly, encouraging him to practice skills he was learning at NYIT, to get better at taking his medication and generally taking care of himself. He saw it as a break from all of that, a chance to veg out for a month. I made sporadic efforts to engage him in my agenda, but mostly I took the easy way out, letting him sleep and, well, whatever. 

The older two happily traipsed back to school a few days before Reilly's break was over. In the week before he left us again, Reilly grew crabbier and more oppositional. I remembered, after a few skirmishes over things like brushing his teeth and changing clothes and whether his father and I were both going to take him to the airport, that transitions are hard for him. 

Luckily, spring break is only a week long. But then we're staring down the barrel of summer. Reilly has spent most of the last two summers at NYIT's program for high school students. My husband thinks Reilly should come home for the summer and, hopefully, get a job. Sounds like a tall order to me. Where will he work? How will he get to a job since he doesn't drive yet? Will he regress again to the child who depends on me to nag him to go bed at a reasonable hour, get up in the morning, shower, eat sensibly and take his meds? It's clear that growth isn't going to happen back here in the nest. 

I spend time googling summer options for college-age kids with ASD. Not much there, and what is there is expensive. I'll keep looking. 

Meanwhile, Reilly arrived back on campus in a good mood and excited about the new semester, texting me with his spring schedule and the news that he's taking a college-credit history course with three of his best buddies. And he wants to bring a friend home for spring vacation. Maybe it will make his transition smoother. Could be a good idea.

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Well said

My child has different special needs, but we all face so many special obstacles in their lives...with no one size fits all solutions.


Excellent article

Loved the insights and perspectives in this well-written article. Not preachy or apologetic, just REAL.