Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anxiety Issues

I get the impression from talking with other parents who have kids on the autism spectrum, and from reading blogs and other articles about autism, that anxiety goes with the Asperger's Syndrome territory. I think that's actually been one of the more difficult aspects of his autism spectrum disorder for us to deal with as parents.  Really, it's easy for us to see why he shouldn't be anxious, but equally hard for him to see why he shouldn't be anxious.  Then we get frustrated by his reaction to "normal" situations, and he gets frustrated that we don't understand why he's upset.  And every situation is a potential anxiety producer.  Life is a minefield of anxiety-provoking situations for him, every day and every place he goes.

Our son has certainly had his share of anxiety ups and downs for his whole life, starting well before his official diagnosis at age 5 1/2.  (We noticed his intolerance for loud noises or crowded situations well before he turned 1.  As a toddler, he cried at every birthday party where people sang, and had meltdowns at almost every new experience.)  His anxiety comes and goes now, sometimes being more pronounced and difficult for him to function around, and other times being just a minor inconvenience for him.  He's in a really anxious phase right now, showing more self-stimulating behaviors, perseverating on things that make him nervous, and even experiencing heart palpitations on occasion.  He's doing his best to cope, using the strategies we've taught him over the years (like deep breathing, taking a break to listen to music, finding a quiet room to sit in for a few minutes, or going for a walk), but the anxiety has been getting the better of him recently.

As a result, he's been edgy, moody, and even more rigid than usual in his need for routine and predictability.  Part of me is so very glad he can verbalize to us that he doesn't want to leave his "comfort zone" because he's anxious.  We've worked so HARD for that priceless bit of self-awareness!  But we still have to tell him that he can't live in his safe little bubble of routine and home 24/7.  Life won't leave him alone until he's ready to handle it.  He'll have to deal with it at inconvenient times (like when we made him go with us to his sister's away soccer game today - oh, the drama and fireworks!).  To be honest, it's been more than a little bit crazy-making for his father and I.  I'm still grateful that Safety Guy has been able to use his coping strategies independently - he's learned a lot, and come a long way.  But when his strategies don't work (or don't work as well as he thinks they should), he gets even more anxious and angry.  It's a nasty cycle that's really hard to break.

I'm hoping that as his birthday passes this weekend, he'll calm down a bit.  The "big event" has been on his mind for weeks now.  He's having a modest party with a handful of his friends, at a local pizza place with a small arcade.  Familiar place, familiar people, favorite food, and favorite games - it's all good.  Once the excitement has passed, maybe he'll be able to relax a bit. 

I know school has been a stress factor for him too, but really his 7th grade year is off to a very good start.  As usual, the hardest things for him to deal with are the unstructured times - cafeteria, hallway transitions, and dismissal.  Since I started subbing, his resource teacher has sought me out a couple times to discuss his progress.  I say hi to him in the halls, and occasionally he hitches a ride home with me instead of on the bus, but I'm careful not to embarrass him.  I think he likes to know I'm there.  With this latest round of anxiety, he's been seeking out physical reassurance from me - asking for a hug, or putting his hand on my shoulder for a minute or two while we're driving.  Coming from my "Don't embarrass me, Mom!" seventh grader, that's very unusual.  But I'm glad I can help him in such a simple way, and that he still wants that closeness.  Sometimes it's hard to remember that this hulking young man is still my little boy in many ways, and always will be.