Summer is officially in full swing.
For many families, this means vacation, summer camp, and unstructured routines.
But for the non-neurotypical teen, summer can mean a loss of the stability and structure they rely on. The lack of routine combined with new activities can be a recipe for stress and overwhelm.
Any time of year, ADHD and other non-neurotypical teens, tweens, and young adults do better when they know what to expect—and what’s expected of them.
So what can families do to survive the summer? Maybe even make it a time of peace and connection for themselves and their non-neurotypical teens?
1. Create Routines
Most adolescents thrive on routine, but especially those who are non-neurotypical.
This was brought home to me on the way to the pool the other day, when my son said, “First we’re going to swim laps, then do the lazy river, then get ice cream. Right Mom?”
It hit me that this had become our unspoken afternoon pool routine.
And that even with something relaxing and fun like swimming, my ADHD teen sought out structure and routine.
Teens with ADHD and others who are non-neurotypical have an better time managing their symptoms and regulating behaviors when their environment is organized, predictable and supportive.
Most routines are created with intent. Regular meals, evening and morning routines, and organized activities provide the scaffolding for the summer schedule.
Othes (like our pool routine) come about more organically. Both have a place.
It doesn’t matter if your summer schedule is looser than your schoolyear one was. Even a general, semi-structured routine, like “Mornings, tutoring. Monday, movies, Tuesday, pool,” is helpful.
Once the schedule is complete, post it in a visible spot so everyone can see what each day will bring. Reminding your teen of the next day’s activities the night before is also helpful.
2. Think Cooperatively
The best bet for getting teens or tweens to follow a routine is to let them create it.
A general rule of thumb is, the older kids get, the more input they should have in how they spend their time. That isn’t to say parents allow teens to sleep in every day or game 24/7.
Instead of unlimited or open-ended choices, try presenting options as this or that. For example, “I’ve researched some summer classes near us. There is a pottery class, a soccer clinic, and a coding academy. Which are you most interested in?”
3. Manage Expectations
Perhaps the biggest key to a successful summer with your ADHD or non-neurotypical teen is having realistic expectations.
Expecting them to navigate a new environment at summer school without some extra time to adjust? Unrealistic.
Expecting vacation to go off without at least one melt-down? Unrealistic.
Expecting them to follow an overly-complicated summer routine? Unrealistic.
Keep in mind that managing expectations isn’t the same as “lowering” them. It simply means holding expectations in context with who your non-neurotypical child really is. It will help set both you and your teen up for success.
4. Don’t Forget the Basics
As obvious as it may seem, healthy food, enough sleep, and regular exercise are all fundamentals that go a long way during the summer months.
Summer may be synonymous with ice cream and junk food, but healthy meals and snacks can really impact teen’s mood and behavior. That doesn’t mean that popscicle isn’t OK. You can counter by adding little things such as a daily green smoothie or keeping a bowl of fruit on hand, to keep the vitamins coming and prevent hunger meltdowns.
Another basic to stick with is exercise. Summertime is a great opportunity to do this outside, doubling the benefits. It’s also a good time to try something new–a new sport, hobby, or adventure–whether your teen alone or as a family.
Finally, remember that sleep is vital for the ADHD brain (and teens’ brains in general).
A year of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns means ADHD and non-neurotypical teens have already spent far more days than usual at home. A fun-but-structured summer routine that stretches teens physically and mentally might be just what the doctor ordered.