Jaylen has always been a little obsessive compulsive, and strong willed to say the least. Along with those stressors comes some extreme anxiety. It seems to come and go in waves, sometimes when least expected, but other times I can predict it is coming. From talking with other parents I find anxiety is a common symptom of autism, as well as other special needs.
His first bout of true anxiety, when we had to start working with his school team, came after I got sick last year. I was in bed, unable to get up for about 48 hours with a flu/strep throat combo which completely wiped me out. At that time, I was a full time stay at home mom who did almost everything for my boys. I brought Jaylen to school, played with him after, made and ate all meals with him, and tucked him into bed every night using the same routines and rituals. So when all of a sudden I was quarantined to my bedroom, it rocked his world.
At school he began to cry over everything. He would sit and cry rather than ask for help. At lunch, he would tear up over what he should eat first. He was so used to me giving him every direction, so the change interrupted his norm. At this point, I realized the damage I had done as a mom. I coddled him. Coddled him to the extreme.
Ever since his diagnosis I have been on top of him, feeling like I had to be there to protect him, and heal his every hurt, physically and mentally. Especially when he was non-verbal I tended to smother him because I felt so strongly about being his personal 24 hour advocate.
After about two months, he started to get back to normal, stressing and crying less. But I knew from then on my actions needed to change. I also knew what affect I had on his life. I knew how dismal it was, but I couldn’t help think about the future. How would he go on if something ever happened to me?
I was really worried as he headed off to Kindergarten this year, holding my breath, waiting for what I was sure would be terrible, but he actually transitioned well. Were there tears? Absolutely. Did the teacher need to talk with me sometimes about sadness and anxiety he was having? Of course. But he overcame. After a few weeks he truly had an “invisible disability” not many would see.
I wish I could say that is the end of my post, he is doing fine and all is well. The truth is, after Christmas break, after Jaylen spent two weeks at home with me, giving him almost undivided attention and coddling, transitioning back into a normal routine was hard. There were days his teacher said she would see him quietly crying at his cubby because he couldn’t find his snack and was too anxious to ask. He would stand outside his classroom if the door was closed and he couldn’t open it, instead of asking for help. He got one wrong on a math test, he normally gets 100% as math is a huge strength for him, and he cried so hard he almost threw up. His teacher had to send him to the nurse and his math test was so soaked with tears the teacher had to throw it away.
Once again, I wish I could tell you I’ve found the answer, that his anxiety is under control and we are confident it will never return. But that is not the case. With the teacher and social worker though, we have come up with two stress-reducing ideas: one for school and one for home. They are helping and this phase seems to be slowly going away. Here they are:
- Jaylen is getting help from the school social worker. He joins in her lunch bunch where they talk about social problems the kids are having, about asking for help when you need it, and trying to be a little more laid back about some things.
- At home, I began to step back little by little and strive to make him more independent and assertive. I don’t guide and direct his every move, and I try not to fight his battles (OK, that one I still really need to work on).
These are just little steps forward and I know there will be more stressors around the next corner. Anyone have experience with anxiety in their children? Anyone have any great tips? I’d love to hear them, so please share!