By Lesley Flaherty, MSW, LCSW
The spring season is full of transformations. The world around us is in a state of resurgence as the cold winter days fade away, leaves begin to bud, and flowers begin to bloom. Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. I remember when I was in college enjoying the time leading up to finals week because even though it meant hours of time spent in the library studying for a statistics exam or writing the final pages of a research paper, it also meant that the semester was ending and I had completed another year towards my degree. It also meant that summer was around the corner, and I had few responsibilities coming my way other than lifeguarding at the local pool and spending time with family and friends.
Over the course of my transition from high school to college and then college to the professional world I managed to view these changes with an open mind. For some, however, this frame of thinking may not come as naturally. Transitions can be a bit frightening, especially if you are moving from a highly structured schedule or routine like you might see in a high school or academic environment. These spaces are familiar and you know what is expected of you everyday. For individuals on the autism spectrum, transitions may be representative of the unknown. It can trigger feelings of stress and anxiety moving from a routine to having to manage what seems like infinite time. Many of our young adults thrive off of having regular activities and having a schedule is often a strategy to help manage stress. These feelings may be exacerbated leading up to predetermined endings, such as the end of the school year or graduation, and can cause us to miss many of the positive things happening around us. The following are some helpful tips to help ease these changes:
Create a schedule: If you know that you will have extra time during your week, create a schedule to help fill in some of the gaps. You do not need to feel like you have to plan every day down to the minute but having a loose schedule will make you feel organized and less stressed. Think about the things you need to do, such as chores or exercise, and activities that you want to do, such as listening to music, playing video games, or spending time with friends.
Learn a new hobby: An open schedule may allow you to pick up something you have been interested in learning or may give you an opportunity to devote time to something you may have been neglecting while you were focusing on your school responsibilities, like homework, exams, or club activities.
Maintain relationships: Transitioning not only means a change in schedule but also a change in the people you see on a daily basis. If you are someone who thrives off of social connections, take this opportunity to reach out to some of the folks you’ve built relationships with and make a plan with them. By maintaining relationships, you are not only engaging in that social interaction that invigorates you but also helping to build in the potential gaps in your schedule which will help mitigate anxiety.
Make a plan: Take the extra time you may have in your schedule to think about your personal or professional goals. If you are graduating from high school, are you planning to attend college in the fall or take classes? What are the steps you need to take to enroll or find an academic track that is a good fit for you? If you’re taking time away from college or graduating, what do you hope your professional goals to be? What are the steps you need to obtain these goals? Is it obtaining part time employment or enrolling in a certificate program? Take the time to answer these questions so that you feel better prepared to make that next step.
Understand this is a phase: It is important to stay positive. If you are unsure of your next step be mindful that this transitional period and is only temporary. Reframing your perspective will help keep you focused and motivated to create change when you are ready.
These are just some of the strategies you may find useful during periods of transformation and transition in your life. Here at Aspire, we are busy gearing up for another busy summer season welcoming back our returning participants and waving a big "hello" to our newest participants. Will you join us to see what transformations the summer holds for you?