Anxiety is a constant companion in our family. Both of my kids suffer badly from anxiety and it affects many aspects of their lives. As parents, we do our best to spot potential anxiety-inducing events ahead of time and either avoid them altogether or at least adjust our kids’ perceptions of those events to reduce the impact.
The anxiety that my eldest son reacts most to comes from direct environmental factors which impact his senses. For example, some sounds, sights, smells, touch, taste, texture and spacial awareness. In particular, anything that could cause pain is a high anxiety event, even if it doesn't actually cause any pain.
As a result, many things are a nightmare, mealtimes for example, where the merest differences in texture (or sign, smell or God forbid, taste) will render even the tastiest of meals inedible.
My son loves McDonalds but is yet to eat a hamburger, he lives off chicken nuggets and fries. Similarly, when it comes to pizza, we're still trying to move past cheese pizzas to ones that actually have toppings on them. He's sixteen by the way.
Don't get me started on dentists or doctors or needles either. These are uncomfortable events for most families but in our case, you'd think we were taking him out for execution. It's only been a few years since we managed to get him to accept the barber’s clippers.
Everything we do needs to take his anxiety into account. Everything is about planning. You might think that he's being “babied” but that's not the case.
We dig our heels in when things don't matter, for example, on the pizzas. Depending upon how far we go, one of two things happens; if we push lightly, for example, via a pepperoni pizza, he’ll simply pick the top off and discard it. If we push too hard; chicken and mushroom pizza, for example, he’ll simply refuse to eat. I can tell you from experience that nothing will make a sixteen year old eat if they don't want to.
Forcefully pushing through the anxiety is out of the question too. Don't even think about it - or if you do, ask yourself how putting a claustrophobic person in a box would help them - because it amounts to the same thing.
Having two sons of the spectrum affords me many opportunities, some of which I could do without. On the anxiety front, it affords me the privilege of seeing two entirely different types of anxiety.
My younger son, aged 13 experiences anxiety quite differently. He has more “social anxiety” and reacts poorly to groups of people and to changes of schedule.
While most other students look forward to non-academic days, such as sports carnivals, these cause him a great deal of distress. So much so that after he refused to get out of the car a few times, we decided to keep him at home for all (immediate) future events.
Obviously this kind of avoidance can’t go on forever and so, as part of his starting secondary school, he’s been told that he must go to these events - at least to socialise, even if he doesn't participate. So far, this seems to be working out well for us.
The key of course, to dealing with anxiety is to anticipate, and in so far as is possible, to plan ahead.
My latest post over at Special-Ism covers this topic in detail, hop over to have a read;