It seems particularly apt to have a post from Mrs M. about the different faces of anxiety in January, as this month is often linked with the Janus, the Roman God of war and peace or the beginning and end of conflict. In this guest blog, Mrs M. describes how we can recognise the signs of anxiety in children with autism, and then some really practical strategies for managing anxiety. It is an honest and inspirational piece. Please do share and comment.
For my son, anxiety is part of who he is.
In fact, it is as much a part of his make up as the colour of his hair or the freckles on his nose that come out every summer. It is his constant companion and is far more than just a bit of worry that can be soothed away with some reassuring words of encouragement.
It is with him forever, and it is important we take it seriously as it plays such a huge part in his life.
It was also actually one of the first indicators to us as he was growing up, that something wasn’t quite as it should be. The older he got the bigger his worries seemed to grow. But at the time we didn’t realise that all the different behaviours we were seeing were driven by this hidden force lurking inside him. And the more we tried to overcome it and force him into situations that we thought he should be able to cope with, the worse we made it; because we didn’t take his anxiety seriously. We didn’t realise how much his anxiety was controlling his emotions and behaviours.
So we bowed down to pressure.
Pressure to make him conform because he looked so ‘normal.’ Pressure from professionals who didn’t have the answers we were so desperately seeking. And pressure from ourselves to live up to the perfect family image that everyone expected us to be.
Pressure to fit our son into societies neat little boxes.
But in fact, we quickly learnt that the key to us being able to move forward as a family unit was far more about us learning to accept and embrace his differences as much as anything else. Learning to accept that his anxiety was part of who he was, and it wasn’t going anywhere. And after all that we had to learn how to unpick his behaviour to see what was really going on underneath the surface.
And so out of necessity his anxiety became our constant companion. We have reluctantly learnt to share our lives with it, having to let it into our routines and family time. Allowing it to dictate the ebb and flow of daily life like the tide. It’s inevitable when your child has anxiety linked with their autism, there is no hiding from it…ever! So, we learnt to accept that it is part of what makes him so unique and roll with it.
Sometimes we can all see his anxiety, even people that don’t know him inside out like I do. It is etched on his face, in his body language and it seeps out of every muscle in his movements. There’s no mistaking it. It controls him like a puppet master making him bite his nails, compels him to ask the same questions again and again with nothing being able to satisfy its hunger. It makes him pace around the room like a caged tiger, and at times it completely takes over his body. Primal instincts kick in which trigger the fight or flight reflex in his body.
But this anxiety also has a darker more secret side.