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The value of structure: my daughter graduated from high school two years ago and has lost ground. One of the comments I heard is that she misses the structure. What does that mean?

Structure is how we create the rhythm of our life. Some of us need more external structure than others; jobs with set schedules and places, versus vacations with no goal, deadlines or reservations. Some people seem to blossom in a school environment. They have wonderful relationships with teachers and educational aides, have friends, and participate in sports and social activities. For them, school is how life should be designed forever. When that experience ends so do the relationships, the close support, the easy and organized access to peers, sports, and activities the person was involved in such as theater or choir. Another aspect of school is that, for the most part, there is a start time, a routine to the day, broken up in periods, recess, lunch, and after school activities. The routine is pretty much the same for a few months at a time. The day takes place in one environment and if there are work experiences and recreational activities, the main hub is still the school. People have precise roles. Educational aides and support workers provide guidance and modeling on how to navigate activities and relationships in different contexts. They also facilitate conversations when interactions get muddled. So if someone has difficulty with executive skills, for example sequencing, and cannot bring order to upcoming activities, or working memory, remembering what the teacher just said, or what they saw on the board before looking down at their paper, as a support in their day is wonderful. When relationships do not come easy, being in close contact with peers and adults in organized settings takes away the hard work of maintaining a social support network.

So the big question is how to find out what is not working for your daughter in her current daily life. Often the expectations put on the person have grown with their age but their ability to manage new settings, especially socially, on their own have not caught up. Even part time jobs can be stressful when there are interruptions, or someone is attempting to fit in to the work social scene. Simple things like finding one's place in sorting videos at a store after a customer asks a question, or knowing what to talk about during employee breaks, can cause much anxiety and bring on a sense of chronic failure if the difficulties are not addressed quickly. It may take a professional, such as a psychologist or a behavior consultant, to tease out where those moments occur for your daughter. Some of the things they might do are careful observations in some of the places she spends her day, and do a functional adaptive behavior assessment meant to find out the things she does and does not do everyday. One great thing about those assessment tools is that they divide daily tasks in various categories, communication, social, health and safety, leisure etc ... so that at the end a picture appears of where the person's strengths and the difficulties are. So someone may love being social, and love dances and going to ball games, and is good at it, but communication is a challenge, creating high frustration when they are trying to get along with others. Built-in support to say the right thing can smooth the waters. Without it, feelings of isolation and inadequacy are likely to grow and eventually lead to resignation and perhaps depression. Tailoring expectations of your daughter's daily life to her strengths and supporting her where needed is key. As an example, a structure put in place could be:

* A picture schedule

* Role playing conversations

* A counseling group watching videotapes and discussing social skills

* A set daily routine with built-in transitions

* Planned social events

Dr. Isabelle Grenon is a psychologist dedicated to the enhancement of life of people with disabilities and has been for the past 17 years. First in New York State and now in British Columbia, she works for a consulting team that provides mental health services to people with developmental disabilities on Vancouver Island, Canada.
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Author:Grenon, Isabelle
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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