Thursday, May 5, 2011

Year 5 Panic Attacks

Never underestimate the Power of a Panic Attack. I KNOW this. I know this and totally underestimated it again.

History: Isaac had a rough year 5. He was mainstreamed into Kindergarten, did ok for the first few months thanks to an aide and a typical friend that helped him, and when both left the school around the holidays, the carefully constructed world he was supported by fell to dust, and Isaac joined the bits and pieces on the ground and just could not get back up. Anxiety rampled, our ability to recognize the depth of what was happening just wasn't working, and it ended with a series of panic attacks that took over a year to end. Roughest year of my life so far.

But O has always handled her anxiety, if not better, than quieter than Isaac. I have recognized for a year now that when Olivia starts to become overwhelmed and panic sets in, she hides. She might flee to an adult, or cry to handle it, but it wasn't too serious. Then she turns 5 and it gets all really serious-like (hey, at least it's predictable).

The nuts and bolts of it are that there are two things that upset Little Miss O. Babies, and crying. Now, I know that those are fairly related, so you would think that when I we are at a friends house who just had a newborn and the newborn starts to cry, I would immediately go on alert and help her deal with the stress. Becuasee that is what a good parent would do, right? I wouldn't be chatting with someone in the kitchen with a glass of wine in one hand, oblivious. Right?

Instinct is an amazing thing. It wasn't only a moment, I am sure. Then something kicked in and I started to look for her. Was she in backyard with her dad and her friends? Did she retreat to a bedroom or a bathroom, door closed? Did she make her way down to the basement? I thought I was being calm and cool, but something maybe in my tone of voice or expression sent everyone else looking too. I am sure it was only 5 minutes that passed, but when I panic, time shuts down. I feel like a block of wood, a robot devoid of emotion.

Finally, my brother walked in and said "Stacey found her". I walked out the front door, and there they were - Stacey walking a tiny peanut of a girl from a solid 2 blocks away. O was found down the street, sitting on the front yard of a stranger's house. Waiting.

How I felt (shocked), and how I reacted (numb, totally numb), was typical me. That is how I handle my own stress. I did not freak out. I just asked her why she walked away, and told her that next time she should go to daddy or mommy and tell them she needed to get away, and that we would help her. It is the most basic of animal reactions: Fight or Flight. Isaac fought. Olivia fled.

Now we watch her reactions carefully, and gauge how we can give her tools to handle her anxiety. Dammit, we need to remember Isaac, and not repeat history. And I am wondering how to give my kids the tools they need to survive in this world. Where do we start?

There are two ways to handle her stress, and I have used both of them. You redirect, or you face it down. I know lots of ASD (and non-ASD) families that avoid situations that can cause anxiety. In fact, this was my main management strategy for Isaac as he was growing up. It was easier on him, easier on me. My theory was that with maturity, he would grow out of some of these fears naturally, and that was true in many cases. But not all. With O, I am taking a different stance. We face our fears, we manage our anxiety, we think of alternatives to handle the situations, we own our reactions. I am grilling Isaac in this now too. He gets embarrased (his biggest issue now), or he acts without thinking first, he then needs to take responsbility for how he feels.

Wish us luck.

1 comment:

  1. Tools of survivial? Wow! How do I teach my ASD child, when I have a difficult time myself?
    I lost Ellie Friday evening at a Department Store trying to find my mother a gift. I turned my back a moment and Ellie took off running. She can't stay still for long. After panicking for what seemed like an eternity, I hear on the intercome; Tina, please meet your party at Customer Service. I calmly walk over and I notice Ellie standing with a store clerk. Ellie announces that she's ok. I asked her why she left me and I couldn't get a response out of her. At least she was able to tell the store clerk her mommy's name and not walk out with a total stranger or leave the store on her own.
    My heart is still beating faster than it should and the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach hasn't gone away.