Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Importance of Downtime

Kids and teens with special needs like Asperger’s, autism, ADHD and ADD are frequently getting lots of special services, like resource programs at school, therapy, group treatments, and tutoring. Then add in the fact that these kids spend the day struggling to read the social cues of their peers and teachers. While neurotypical kids may recharge at recess and lunch, these kids may struggle with the pressure of sports, too much sensory input, and unstructured, unpredictable social interactions. When they get home, they may feel exhausted and overloaded, and it’s time to start in on homework. No wonder they’re exhausted!
Many individuals on the spectrum say that they work very hard to behave in a manner that’s acceptable to the neurotypicals around them. Frequently, I read about people saying that they need to recharge after spending time socializing. What may look like a waste of time to parents may be just what your child needs to get ready to go out into the world again.
Isabel Briggs Myers, one of the originators of the famed personality test,  the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, wrote about introversion and extroversion in Introduction to Type. (6th edition, 1998, Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.)  In it, the distinction between introverts and extroverts is made on the basis of how individuals receive energy. Extroverts are defined as people who “receive energy from interacting with people and from taking action.” Introverts receive energy from “reflecting on their thoughts, memories and feelings.” (p.9)
Many individuals on the autism spectrum have what Tony Attwood terms “special interests”. In The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, 2007,  Attwood states that “the pleasures associated with the special interest are greatly superior to many other pleasures in life.” (p. 183)
It’s so easy for families to get overloaded and overwhelmed. But, it’s as important to schedule in downtime as it is to make time for sleep. Both might make it easier for your child to learn and function at the best level the next day. Give your child the gift of downtime.