In today’s ever-changing and fast-paced world, the concept of being in the present moment and practicing mindfulness has never been more important. This is especially true as it relates to young adults as they begin navigating the college environment. For those learners who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and other various learning differences, for example, being able to work on skills related to brain-body connection, staying in the present moment and sharpening executive functioning skills is paramount to overall success, confidence and development during their academic journey.
Academic status and grades frequently become the most important focus as it relates to daily performance, be it during middle school, high school or college. It is important to note that to be successful in school and carry out all necessary executive functioning tasks daily, one must be of sound mind and body to perform optimally in the classroom and at home. Basic needs, such as diet and nutrition, water intake and hydration, proper and consistent medication protocol, as well as a healthy sleep cycle all play important roles in establishing a healthy student in mind and body. When young adults are away from parents or guardians for the first time, such as in college, and they are left to manage their own personal, social and academic schedules, things can fall apart quickly. It is important to have conversations and practice such skills long before they leave the nest. Having a proper plan in place with plenty of time for students to practice, generalize and demonstrate independently that they can handle all of the responsibilities of daily living is essential.
Often times, parents ask us as professionals to identify the most important skill areas for students to work on prior to the transition to college, and, many times, the response focuses on the “basic needs” areas as mentioned above. Generally speaking, students’ academic content and executive functioning needs can be provided via good communication with faculty, on campus help centers, disability coordinators, and private coaches. Students may be reluctant, however, to seek help for general day-to-day adaptive and independent living skills, such as maintaining a healthy and balanced schedule, having a proper sleep cycle, incorporating mindfulness and exercise into weekly schedules, and maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. Further, if a student is on medication, being consistent with that protocol, as well and staying properly hydrated on a daily basis is also crucial.
It has been noted in previous research that one should be drinking water to the level of about half one’s body weight in ounces per day to be properly hydrated (Elkaim,1). More often than not, college students do not come close to meeting that baseline level, and the same most likely can be said for the general population as well. When a student is dehydrated, their brain and body are disconnected, their nervous system is not working optimally, and their performance with basic academic tasks may be hampered (Heid, 1). When young adults experience dehydration it is proven that their brains need to work harder to function normally. Awareness about mindfulness and stress management is the first step towards creating better and more consistent healthy habits. The implementation of such habits need to start when a student is much younger, ideally during middle school, so that good habits can be practiced early in order for them to become more automatic by nature. By the time a student is ready to be on his or her own, say at college, they should be confident in their ability to take care of themselves. They should know their body, the way they perceive the world, and what type of learner they are. They also should want to continue to try to take care of themselves both physically and emotionally speaking. This is not always an easy task; however, there are many support systems out there, including health professionals, assistive technology, and resources on college campuses, as well as professional organizations, who can teach these skills to young adults.
A sense of independence is something that has a lot of power and intention. Independence does not develop overnight, and students must first want to become more self-reliant, be able to listen to support staff, family, and friends who can provide knowledge and wisdom on this process. Being truly independent takes time, and for all of us is something that we truly never master, but try to improve. When it comes to students with learning differences, being able to be independent is something that may come with more obstacles; however, it is certainly not an impossibility to achieve. By starting out discussing personal, independent living and academic goals with your student at an early age and role-playing and generalizing different goals in many different facets of life, the student can see the benefits of working hard to achieve independence.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us. The question is, how does one become so enlightened? How does a student practice this skill, harness and embed it into their daily lives? There are many ways to practice mindfulness, such as deep breathing exercises, basic yoga stretches, different creative writing and journaling techniques, as well as several different forms and modalities of meditation. Finding and using sources of inspiration, such as art and music for example, can help students reduce stress and quiet their minds. Other examples that are gaining popularity include incorporating essential oils and aromatherapy, yoga or exercise classes, and massage therapy. Integrating these into your health protocols can help with stress reduction and one’s general feeling of well-being. There is great power in setting daily intentions and goals as it relates to mindfulness. Reminding yourself of your sense of purpose and your commitment to yourself and your goals is the root of achieving success.
In the end, there is no one specific way to work on mindfulness and one’s general wellness. Good, healthy habits become part of one’s routine and need to fit into a daily schedule, one’s belief system and philosophies. Having and maintaining a healthy school and life balance is essential for overall health and wellbeing. Trying different exercises, reading and researching the topic of health and wellness further, and consulting with professionals in the field are some good first steps. The world certainly is not going to slow down anytime soon; however, we can make the conscious choice to slow our minds down, invest in ourselves and strive to be the best and most authentic version of ourselves we can be.
Marty McGreevy is the Westchester Coordinator for New Frontiers in Learning, an organization that provides academic and social supports to young adults who learn differently. For more information about New Frontiers in Learning, please call (646) 558-0085, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nfil.net.
Elkain. (2013). US News and World Report. The Truth About How Much Water You Should Really Drink http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2013/09/13/the-truth-about-how-much-water-you-should-really-drink
Heid. Shape. Your Brain On Dehydration http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/your-brain-dehydration