Although the information below has been written “about teens” it may still be helpful for you to think if it applies to you. This may then give ideas on how people around you can hep you.
Developing flexibility and adaptability is a useful skill or trait for your adult life as these skills are valued by employers. Learning to listen to other people’s point of view will help you to become a valued employer and team player.
What Is Flexibility?
Flexibility describes the behaviour of switching between tasks and demands in response to changes in the environment. In essence, it’s how we change our behaviour to different contexts or stimuli in the environment. Sometimes executive functioning researchers describe it as cognitive flexibility, shift, task switching, or mental flexibility.
Teens who struggle with flexibility have difficulty discriminating differences in the environment and may not shift focus between different tasks or relevant information quickly. When facing inflexibility, our child or student may get ‘stuck,’ may refuse to transition, or may keep trying the same response over and over even though it’s not working.
Why Is Flexibility Necessary?
There are some real-world benefits to developing flexibility. Coping with unexpected changes and adapting to new information are associated with a wide range of positive outcomes in children and adults, including:
- Better reading abilities
- Improved responding to adverse life events
- Higher ability to respond to stress in adulthood
- Improved creativity
But some real-world challenges happen when teens and young adults struggle with flexibility. Challenges with change can trigger some of the familiar problem behaviours parents and teachers encounter when working with diverse learners. Improvements in flexibility can help our teens avoid:
- Getting frustrated when little things happen
- Repeating the same mistake
- Difficulty adapting to changes in schedules
- Switching between activities or leaving activities
- Arguing the same point over and over
- Tantrums or meltdowns when rules or circumstances change.
Flexibility Challenges Can Occur in Multiple Settings
Inflexibility can pose challenges for a teenager in school, at home and in social settings. Some teens may be inflexible in all areas of life, and others may be inflexible in one context and not in another. Teens who are struggling significantly with flexibility may have anxiety or Autism Spectrum symptoms.
Flexibility in problem solving.
Can a teenager explore different approaches and consider perspectives from the teacher/ classmates/ group work partners to solve a novel problem?
Some teenagers get stuck. They see a task from only one angle, failing to think flexibly about how to solve the problem.
These teens may need to be taught specific strategies to try at least 3 ideas for solving a problem.
Another strategy is for the teen to teach another student how to solve the problem, and then that student teaches the teen a different way to solve it. They take turns being a teacher and being a learner.
Flexibility in Routine
The next related context for flexibility is flexibility in routine.
This concern may be evident at home when you have a teenager who must always follow the same routine after school.
For example, he must always do his math homework at the kitchen table, have a snack, and then take a break.
If you have a doctor’s appointment or a school program, this change is met with stress and sometimes refusal because the schedule is changing.
Encouraging some flexibility in a teenager’s routine is good.
Certain activities, like getting ready for school or bedtime, benefit from a predictable routine. Find time to vary it up, encourage spontaneity and try new things with your teenager.
Flexibility Challenges at School
Inflexibility in routines and schedules can also cause challenges at school if changes occur. For example, an assembly, a fire drill, or a substitute teacher may alter the flow of the day, the routine, and the expectations.
These changes can cause frustration and stress in a teenager who is inflexible.
At school, it can be possible to create choices for a student who struggles in these situations. Allow a student to select preferred seating at an assembly or to leave the class early for a fire drill. Provide notice that the teacher is out sick, and have the student choose to stay in the classroom or take his reading to the library.
A very inflexible teenager may need choices built into the day when schedule changes or other differences in the day may provoke anxiety.
Flexibility in Social Interactions and Relationships
The third type of flexibility is important in social interactions and relationships.
An inflexible teenager may feel misunderstood by a certain teacher and may refuse to work on the relationship. Some teenagers struggle to see the perspective of others, to take the time to understand differences of opinion. Teens who are inflexible in relationships tend to feel they are always right.
Teenagers with autism especially need to feel like a teacher understands and respects their point of view; otherwise, they often discount a teacher and don’t try to learn from them. These teens may also have conflict with others who have differing opinions and perspectives.
Teaching Life Lessons
Flexibility to be able to listen to teachers, classmates, friends and parents and to consider other perspectives and opinions helps build relationships. Helping teenagers see the value in hearing all sides of an issue will improve their ability to build relationships.
If your teenager struggles significantly with social interactions and relationships, a counsellor or school psychologist-led social group may be helpful. Teenagers must practice being collaborative and learning from each other; learning social flexibility is an important life lesson.
If your teenager has considerable difficulty with any or all aspects of flexibility, try some of these strategies.
Why routines are good for teens
Some teens like and need routine more than others, but in general, having an organised and predictable routine can have the following benefits:
- routines at home can help teens to feel safe and secure, and can provide stability during a time of change
- routines that include time for fun or spending time together can strengthen your relationship with your teen
- having a regular bedtime can help set your teenager’s body clock so their body ‘knows’ when it’s time to sleep
- having an important job to do in their daily routine (such as feeding and walking the dog) can help teenagers to develop a sense of responsibility
- routines can help teenagers to develop basic work skills and time management.
How to create a good routine
So how do you create a good routine for your teenager? The key is to involve them in the planning so they feel ownership. Here are some tips:
- set a daily schedule with the same wake-up times and bedtimes for each school day—and stick to them
- make study time part of your teenager’s daily routine, with more time allocated for study when assignments or exams are coming up
- factor in time off—knowing there’s a reward for all that hard work is a great motivator
- make it visual—draw up a chart, keep a day planner on the fridge, record the routine on your teen’s phone or computer
- include your teenager’s deadlines for school assignments and exams on your calendar or planner so they can see what is coming up
- practise, practise, practise—it might sound obvious, but the only way to make a routine stick is to be routine about it!
- don’t worry if you miss a beat, no one’s perfect. If the day does not go to plan, just smile, stay positive and start again the next day.
The teenage brain is going through a period of huge change. It can often be a time when young people do not want to stick to family routines. It is a tricky to get the balance right as teenagers to begin to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.
Transition is change
The word ‘transition’ can mean large moves such as going from school to college, or moving away from home, but also day to day changes such as leaving lunchbreak to go to lessons etc…use the information provided in this webpage area to apply to the transitions that matter to you
Preparing for a change of school or moving into a workplace or University
Ideas for planned visits and phased entry:
Visit the setting several times with someone you know before you start.
Meet and take photos of any key people who might help you, or parts of the building so you can look at them when you get home.
Look at the website with someone you know, to see what information you can find about people, places and routines. There may be a section specifically about supporting people who are neurodivergent.
When the change is taking place keep familiar things close to you and make sure you ask questions about anything you aren’t sure of.
If you have sensory needs, try to think of the things that may trigger you to become uncomfortable in the new setting. Communicate about these with a supportive person in that setting so you can discuss ideas for how to reduce the impact of these.
Make sure that (if appropriate and if you want to) someone has explained about your neurodivergence to someone in a support-position or position of authority in the new place such as a Special Education Lead or Manager.
Discuss reasonable adjustments that would be helpful for you. Schools and workplaces are required to put in place reasonable adjustments to support you. If you have tests or exams, there may be additional reasonable adjustments that need to be considered.
See Reasonable adjustments button
Read about other people who have neurodivergent conditions. Successful role models.
Highlight your strengths. Think about what you enjoy and are good at and develop these interests.
Find people you can express yourself and your views with. Start to develop the confidence to express how you feel and what is important to you.
Peer support – find groups of others who hold similar views who you can share ideas and experiences with.
Make sure you set yourself realistic goals.
Thinking of going to University?
Universities can help you adapt to university routines, understand your course requirements, develop self-help skills and support you as you adjust to living away from home.
Looking for a job
Being flexible and adaptable both require the ability to change plans, priorities and ideas to suit changing circumstances. This requires understanding the balance between task urgency and importance. Adaptability often implies anticipating and planning ahead to allow for contingencies, while flexibility can be more immediate and situational, often with a need to accommodate others.
Both approaches are of immense value to employers as they allow for a more agile form of working while coping well with transition. They also allow you to fit into a new working environment quickly and easily, particularly if this involves remote or hybrid working.
Flexibility is a core skill when studying full time, as you are required to anticipate and work around your assignment deadlines, extracurricular activities and social life. In particular, the ability to adapt your working style can be put to the test if you have had to adopt remote learning during your course or undertake a placement year or study abroad. Bear these in mind when constructing your CV.
The Curly Hair Project is an organisation that helps people who are neurodivergent and the people around them, founded by autistic author Alis Rowe. It uses animated films, comic strips and diagrams to make work interesting and easy to understand! https://thegirlwiththecurlyhair.co.uk/