Taming the Worry Monster

frightened-childIt was my son’s psychotherapist who first identified Anxiety as Jack’s biggest problem when he was in second grade.  He disagreed with the teachers that Jack was ADHD, explaining that one of the reasons he couldn’t focus in school and was acting out when the smallest, seemingly inconsequential thing went wrong was that he is constantly living on the edge, his mind filled with fear.

 

In Kindergarten we should’ve seen the early signs when he was afraid to get up from the automated flush toilet because the noise frightened him.  In first grade, he was punished for constantly munching on some cereal which he would hide in his pockets, (we later learned that the munching was for self soothing), he had to be forewarned about fire drills and put on his noise cancelling head phones.  At birthday parties at Chuck e Cheese, my boy was crawling under the table screaming when Chuck E came around and sang happy birthday.  It was embarassing and worrying for us that my little boy was crying when other kids were having fun… His life was a constant, unrelenting stream of problems all linked to his anxiety which we didn’t understand at that time.  He travelled everywhere with his security “blanket”- the Star Wars and GI Joe figures were cute, and quite normal, but these were replaced by a spatula which he carried everywhere, even on 20 hour flights to Asia where it (literally) never left his side.  God forbid he were to lose that spatula, so that humble spatula became as important as our passports, safeguarded by two very vigilant adults.

I first read this article a year ago, written by an adult with autism.  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/worrier-warrior/201404/first-person-perspective-anxiety-and-autism

Dr Catherine Alvarez is a mathematician, and founder of Math Wizard, student of psychology, blogger, and homeschooling mom of two great kids.  She discusses anxiety in Autism, where she explains that anxiety can be consuming and handicapping, preventing a person from learning or even trying.  Before all else, comes the Acceptance.  I wished someone had told me this twelve years ago, as there was too much pain, heartbreak and judgement that could have been avoided.  

“It’s so important to deal with anxiety before trying to address other issues or expect someone to respond to teaching.”
 
Look beyond the child’s behaviors which often seem irrational, embarassing, inexplicable, socially unacceptable, and remember that you have a frightened child, unable to explain what is troubling him.  You can’t cajole or punish away his anxieties, but you can work with him to tame those worry monsters, slowly, one at a time.  You won’t be  able to tame all of them, but every tiny little monster you can tame brings them a little bit of comfort and safety, which then frees them to learn.
 

Kate M

Reformed Corporate Workhorse. Reuser / Recycler. Blogger. Reader. Singapore Girl. San Diego Mom. Believer.

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