Sunday, 7 July 2013

Anxiety and Autism- Making it Better

Making it better - not an easy task....
Despite being a fairly experienced mum of an ASD child ( I've had thirteen years to learn!), it didn't occur to me until quite recently just how much anxiety and sensory problems play a role in causing autistic behaviors. I sometimes wonder why I didn't notice it before but I suppose that the problems are more evident now that my son can explain how he feels.

At the age of 5 my son told his teacher that the playground 'was too noisy'. For many children no matter how much support you put into the education system it won't solve the problem of the babble of excited children or the echo of a school hall with high ceilings. Only the  other day I rang my daughter whilst she was travelling on the school bus and I could hardly hear myself speak over the noise of screeching children- for an autistic child it's a form of torture, I couldn't  put him through that,

For anyone who tries to argue that my son needs to socialise and that home education isn't the answer I would answer that  being with his peers for 6 hours a day, five days a week isn't the way for an autistic child to learn how to socialise.My son can socialise perfectly well when he's comfortable, in fact he has friends of various ages- most of them older than him., Yesterday for example his sister's friend came for a sleepover. She has been several times now and my son has barely spoken to her.Yesterday the sun was shining and I found the three of them playing a game on the trampoline - my son has taken his time to assess the situation to the point where he has wanted to take part and be included. My daughter's friend on the other hand has had the opportunity to learn a little bit about autism .

My son functions well on a one to one basis when the person he is with has something in common with him. I try not to manipulate him into 'false' situations- he is capable of making his own friends- something he has done through his gaming and a tool which I think will benefit many autistic children as they cross the line into adult hood. It enables them to interact with others and get to know them before they commit to 'meeting them', I suspect that for many it will be a way to form relationships as the 'niceties' will be over before they even meet.

What is clear to me is that if you deal with the anxiety or sensory difficulties then you will help the behaviour.Home education gives you the opportunity as a parent to observe your child and establish why he is behaving in a certain way. Often when they come home from school it is difficult to unravel what caused a meltdown or anxiety because the moment has been 'lost' amongst the constant demands of thirty children on their teacher,

I know that if my son starts rocking or puts his hands on his ears that things are building up and to get him out of that situation before an explosion. We now have an arrangement that if shops get to much for him with their bright lights and ringing tills he will just walk out and stand by the car. (Obviously that wouldn't work if he was buying something at the tills but at the moment and for the short term future he will require support in shops anyway)

There are tool kits you can make up to help with stress. For older children , having a stress ball to manipulate when they are out ,or in my son's case ,a book he can dip into when thinks get too much) can really help.

Changes in routine cause massive anxiety so a diary (an electronic one for an Aspie kid would be great). For non verbal children picture cards or PECS of where they are going can help but be aware that it pays  to have a 'wild card' for when things go wrong (which they definitely will sometimes). Recently I came across a card with a picture of Homer Simpson and the words "DOH" above his head.It worked for a child who liked the Simpsons and calmed him down when the going got tough.

For my son we have found that Indian head massage works. I bought a book and taught myself - I'm not the most patient mum but it seems to work for us. We don't talk too much if he is feeling really anxious. He often just can't hear me but he visibly relaxes as the tension subsides.

The most important thing I have learned though is to talk about what my son is going through. I reassure him that every one has anxiety, not just ASD kids and that it's normal. What isn't normal is that it is more excessive for him and that an adult he will probably have the same feelings to deal with, which will be scary but that we're building up strategies to deal with that now. (He fancies one of those massage chairs you see in electrical retailers!)

That's where home education and mainstream education differs. In mainstream he would be concentrating on exams so he can 'get a job'. We on the other hand are learning how to deal with the one biggest thing that will prevent him from getting one and keeping it because if we can get that one right then the qualifications (whether formal or otherwise) will follow.

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