Autism in Our Home: Anxiety

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Autism in Our Home AnxietyWe first noticed anxiety in our Little Man when he was a toddler. It started with never wanting to leave my side. I thought it was a normal phase. All toddlers go through a stage like that now and then. But this seemed different.

During his preschool years he did not like to be in loud places or places with a lot of people. The only way he would attend Kid’s Connection at our church is because my mother and my oldest daughter helped out in his class.

Signs of Anxiety in our Little Man

Our son always, always had to have someone with him at all times. This is the very reason we could not leave him alone when he was trying to fall asleep at night. For a while I thought these were just unfounded fears that had gotten out of control. As the years went on, they only became increasingly worse.

He seemed to do just fine during preschool and Kindergarten, but I think this is due to the regimented schedule and routine that school offered. As long as he knew what was going to happen, and it didn’t change, he was perfectly fine.

His anxiety also became apparent when his routine did change. For example, my husband always drove the same way to school each and every day. One day I had to drive him instead and I took a shortcut. He was worried the entire time that we were going to be late.

He also felt comfort and security in knowing the plan for each day. He would ask countless times during the day, “Where are we going today?” and I had better include each and every stop. If we veered off the original schedule he definitely noticed and would ask about it.

Our son’s anxiety rose at an all-time high the summer between his Kindergarten and 1st grade year. By this time, our psychiatrist had diagnosed him with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, along with ADHD and Autism.

Towards the end of his Kindergarten year he began crying and running away during recess because of all the bugs and bees and flies that were now around. During that same summer, he refused to go outside because of the bugs. I recall one day we all wanted to go outside to do some yard work. He did not want to go outside. I brought him out, holding him, and he became hysterical. He held on to me so tightly and was crying and pleading with me to bring him back inside, that I realized this was no longer a passing phase.

Help for Our Son’s Anxiety

When we called his psychiatrist, she was not at all surprised. She gave us a medication to help ease his anxiety. It does not completely take care of it, but it makes things less fearful for him.

He can now go to the bathroom on his own, be alone in the bathroom while taking a bath, play in his bedroom with the door closed, and not be in the same room as either his Dad or I at all times.

Yes, one of us had to be with him in the same room at all times. You can imagine the lack of privacy my husband and I began to feel. I would find myself getting mad at him for something he could not control. We would have to remind ourselves that this was a symptom of his Autism and he could not help himself.

I remember feeling terrible for my son, as he wrestled with these fearful and hopeless feelings. Anxiety makes you feel completely out of control, which is a terrible way to feel. I did not want my then 4 year old, to be freaking out over something little boys usually love to play with – bugs and the outdoors. I could only imagine how he felt when he had an uncontrollable need to be in the presence of my husband or I at all times. No one ever wants to feel that way.

I wish I could say I have some practical tips and ideas on how to help your child with his/her anxiety but I don’t have much to offer you here. There are a few things we have done that seem to help (never prevent) a meltdown due to his uncontrollable anxiety.

Medication had been the number one solution for his anxiety that has really helped.

Like I said before, he no longer needs someone to be in the same room with him at all times. He enjoys playing with his Legos and Squinkies by himself in his room. He’ll tell me now if he wants me to stay with him while he’s taking a bath or if I can leave the room. Most of the time, I’m allowed to leave the bathroom. 🙂

He is still afraid of bugs but he will venture outside for a short time, and he absolutely loves recess at school.

Front-loading our son, letting him know what to expect ahead of time, has also greatly helped him with his anxiety.

We have a few visual schedules and charts hanging up in our house that have worked wonders for him. I designed a morning and afternoon schedule for him so he can expect the same thing every day. I also keep a calendar up for everyone to see and let him know, at least a day or 2 ahead of time, if there’s an event we have to attend or an appointment he has.

After school, I let him know right away what we are doing. Some days we have to drop his sisters off at dance class or go to the grocery store. I let him know each and every stop we have to make and he seems ok with that, as long as he knows what to expect.

Rewards have also worked well in our home. On his morning and after school schedule, if he’s completed each and every item he can choose a reward like an electronic or tv show. He used to have a terrible time when he had an occupational therapy appointment. We began the “you can pick a free movie from the movie rental store, if you have a good attitude at your appointment,” and that worked well. Again, this is all part of front-loading. And giving someone a positive incentive for performing a certain task works very, very well.

You get paid when you work right? I like knowing that if I show up for my job and perform my duties the best I can, I’m going to get paid. Positive reinforcement at its finest. 🙂

All in all his anxiety is being handled as well as it can be at this moment. I would love to see him completely over his fears, but this is something we will have to help him with. His fears and anxieties will most likely change or evolve over the years. We will always be there to help him if and when he needs it.

Do any of your children struggle with anxiety? How do you handle this in your home? I would love to hear any of your stories – good, bad, or ugly. Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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  1. Pingback: 6 Tools to Help Calm Your Anxious Child ~ Living With Real Joy

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