Michael has improved is so many areas. My heart swells with joy when I see how his social skills have improved, and when he needs help like at winter camp, he will ask his teacher to help him socialize better with friends. Every time I say those words they bring tears to my eyes. My little boy is growing up. Then, there are the stressful and scary moments of transitions when the anxiety monster comes out. My son Michael is not there. He loses himself to his fears, his anxieties. I know what that is like. I used to have an anxiety monster as a child. When I think back now, I can remember thirty years back a few memories where I thought I didn’t deserve to be loved, to be respected, and even to live. I don’t know if it was my active writer’s imagination, but I actually remember at fourteen visualizing what it would be like to kill myself by slitting my wrists in the bath. I stopped myself from following through. I didn’t want to hurt my mother initially, but then I realized I also wanted to live. That evil voice inside telling me to harm myself, and that I wasn’t worthy was not real. She was my low self-esteem. She needed to be nurtured and loved back to life. I spent the next twenty plus years doing that, and now I can honestly say, I don’t hear her anymore at all. I have learned to love myself wholly, completely, because I have learned to accept my good and bad moments. I have learned from my mistakes and grown from my triumphs, and now am stronger as a person.
Michael’s anxiety and stress seem very similar to my old demons, but are only demons autism style. What I mean is that they are seen through his own unique autism lens, which means things are hightened-things like smells, light, noise and fears. His fears of separation from his family, fears of the dark and unknown, and the stress of transitions at all times of the year are something that he constantly, and his Dad and I, constantly grapple with. He had a wonderful time at Winter Camp with his class, but the homecoming was rough. Transitioning back to structure at home where he was met with a tired Mom fighting off a cold, did not sit well with him. I also found out the beds at camp were not the most comfortable, so he did not sleep the best. This made for round one of a huge meltdown I have not seen in two months. He recovered though, and apologized. Then, after dinner when he was with Dad and was told to get ready for bed, the next whopper of a meltdown came. As tired and frustrated as I was, my heart broke for Michael. He was clearly in distress and not able to regulate his reactions, his words, yet Dad and I still had to stand firm and tell him his behavior was unacceptable and he needed to calm down.
When I looked back tonight at the difficulties I suspected would occur, I realized how could I have given Michael better tools to prepare for his transition of camp with friends, fun food, and a different bedtime routine, to back at home with Mom, Dad and our routine? Pictograms don’t work anymore. He does not always want a social story. So where can I go to help him? Fortunately, we could still have conversations after he is calm, but I want to reach him before his emotions go into overdrive. I have decided that simply being more present for him and giving him a concrete schedule off what we are doing can help. After that, it would be riding out the storm and reminding him Mom and Dad love him no matter what. The thing is, the more advance notice one could give for transitions, the better it will be for any child with anxiety, whether or not they have autism. Another thing to try, is to remind him that he does have control over his emotions and can choose what the consequences of any action would be.
Exceptional Parents, how do your Exceptional Children handle anxiety and transitions? Where do you and they struggle as a family? The first thing to remember is to talk about the struggle and not make them feel guilty for feelings of stress or minimize it. Secondly, remind them about tools they could use to handle difficult feelings and emotions, like deep breathing, counting to ten, walking, yoga, even medication, can be part of a plan to balance their worried minds and help them function at the utmost capacity. They need to know you are in their corner and believe in them even when they do not believe in themselves. Until next time.