Many factors play into a person’s mental health. Communication styles can even be tied into mental health. Having roommates that you must learn to communicate with on a regular basis can be a helpful treatment for depression and isolation. Having roommates can also offer the opportunity for learning valuable social skills that living alone would not. Learning how to live with someone else is an important step in development. Both independence and community involvement go hand in hand for successful living skills, especially for those with ASD.
I began working with a young man I will call Buddy to work on social skills and making connections with others. Buddy recently moved out into the community for the first time and was provided a roommate with a similar profile.
Buddy has lived most of his life in a rural area and was able to remain in his room for long periods of time playing video games. He often had thoughts that would provoke a tense look on his face and he would start punching in the air. Buddy is an extremely kind and gentle young man, however this characteristic causes others to get concerned.
The first step that took place was a dinner with the new roommate so that they could get acquainted with each other.
During this time the two were asked to turn off their phones and openly talk to each other. Buddy is very quiet and his new roommate is very social and does not do well with confrontation. The two were asked open ended questions. Buddy would answer the questions, but his answers were short. His roommate had long animated answers. Despite these communication differences they seemed to get along well. After dinner they were asked to exchange phone numbers since they were going to live together and would be relying on each other.
Buddy will not mention that he gets depressed or anxious but his body language will show it.
He thrives on structure and keeping busy, which most often keeps his mental health characteristics at bay. Buddy has had exposure to Art Therapy, volunteering in the community, and attending all social functions in his new environment. He often doesn’t appear to be enjoying himself but when asked he says that he is and wants to go back. His motivation to attend all gatherings is to remain independent and obtain gainful employment.
Buddy and his roommate are often asked to participate in activities together. The two will go grocery shopping together, menu plan together, and have family dinners together.
They are slowly beginning to rely on each other. They have started picking out movies together and so on. Both families are aware that this may take a long period of time but realize that slow exposure out in the community will work and Buddy will feel better each day with both a purpose and a mission.
It has been three months now and Buddy has continued volunteering in the community and he is learning bus routes.
He gets up on his own in the morning and arrives to his destination on time. He truly enjoys serving in the community in any capacity. When volunteering his mental health characteristics are minimal and his colleagues have an understanding of Buddy and are very empathetic. Of course, miracles do not happen overnight.
With faith, consistency, and positive role modeling he is making strides each day.
Exposure in the community can be difficult for those on the spectrum and can cause anxiety in itself. But stretching boundaries, as with all of us, can help to broaden experiences and our kids will slowly learn to be more comfortable. Continued isolation will never be healthy, mentally or otherwise. Consistent small steps are the key. Keep exposing your kids to different experiences and limit that screen time!
by Raeme Bosquez-Greer
Southwind Fields Program Director