There are a lot of feelings, and thoughts that occur in our bodies at any given time. I often wonder what happens to our children, when they are getting anxious. Sadly, many children are unable to express their feelings, and they have a hard time understanding why they feel they do. Emotions like being overwhelmed, sadness, anxiety, feeling angry and helplessness are all uncomfortable, yet normal expressions and emotions to feel. If your child suffers from anxiety, they may experience strong internal sensations of tension. This can include a racing heart, muscular tensions, sweating and stomachache. Intense anxiety can result in repetitive behaviors that appear to serve no function.
When you look at your child who is anxious or afraid, what do you see and feel, and what do you know?
My two boys are at school this week. Little Lachy has started Prep, and his older brother Connor has started year 2. Each are feeling different emotions and experiences as they settle into their new surroundings. Both have no friends in their classes, both have new teachers, new classrooms, and new expectations placed upon them. Both boys express themselves very, very differently, and as a parent with little boys on the ASD spectrum, I worry about them.
When they walk into their classrooms, I look at them, and their fellow classmates. Some, in their first few days, have cried and held onto their parents as they turn to leave, while others wave their parents goodbye happily, and prepare for their day. Lachy looks around nervously, he chews on his fingers and flicks and fiddles with them a little bit, but he is brave as he tells me he loves me, as his eyes flick. On the other hand, Connor is distant and quiet, tired and moody (Anyone who knows Connor would understand that this is uncharacteristic behaviours as he is noisy, talkative, and in your face) So, what is happening inside their little bodies, what is physically happening?
As a parent, when you enter a new environment, or try something foreign and new, have you considered the emotional and physiological processes your body goes through? You may feel nervous and anxious, your stomach my feel ill, you may tremble as your heart races, and you may even feel sweaty. Some experience some forms of panic attacks. You may feel awkward, sad almost. You might even feel like you just want to go home.
What do you do, how do you cope?
Well, I know as a silent observer, that it is no different for our children, and while some may express their feelings openly, others may show it differently. Do you have a child who becomes solemn, aggressive and withdrawn? Are they snappy, and rough? Do you see them slowly retreating into themselves? Are they teary at the slightest issue? Where have they gone?
Connor has recently turned 7, and we have promised him a party for his birthday this year. Towards the end of the school term last year, he counted off the majority of his classmates that he wanted to invite over, his gorgeous smile beaming with excitement. What has happened to our boy, where has he gone as he decides, without making eye contact that he just doesn’t want a party anymore! “I don’t want anyone to come over mum, I just don’t want a party”. As a parent you search to find what is wrong, and sometimes, there are just no answers. Your mind flickers to the last party he had, where he was so excited to have his friends over, and when the day finally came, and as his friends were entering the front gate, he retreated in anger and tears into his bedroom. As his friends started greeting each other, and started playing, he hid crying in his bedroom. A couple of friends were concerned about him, and came upstairs to see him, yet it was still so painful for him. Eventually he came downstairs, but it was an overwhelming experience for him.
I am guilty for taking advantage of what ‘appears’ to be an outgoing boy. A verbal boy, one who is fascinated with the Titanic, or her sister ships. Now, it is the Poseidon Adventure that he is interested in. It’s an obsession, just like Plane crashes. These are not mainstream likes for most boys his age. He draws them, makes paper models out of them, reads about them, watches clips about them. We have lego ships, birthday and christmas presents are all about the titanic or planes. Our conversations are laced with these stories, with repetitive questions to check or coach us. But, when he attempts to talk about this obsession with his friends, they are not interested, not one bit! Sadly, he just doesn’t understand why they just walk away, or go onto another topic.
Lachy talks like a broken record about the Titanic as well, it gets blended into any conversation. If he wants to start a conversation, he will talk about the Titanic. If you ask his a question, he most likely will talk about the Titanic. It drives us to the point of crazy……..but at least we understand.
To be honest with you, we have taught and actively encouraged all of our boys to greet other people. But I have noticed, that this isn’t a reciprocated courtesy afforded by many. When the boys go up to some of the children they know, and greet them with a hello, the others tend to just look at them. This really gives me the cranks, especially when their parents aren’t actively teaching their children the same. This is basic communication 101 we are talking about here. But, I’m afraid it’s not so basic anymore.
So, like many parents, I worry about my boys, some days to the point of crying. The world is a difficult and complex place, full of a plethora of emotions and experiences. I worry about their ability to ‘fit in’, about their ‘coping’ mechanisms. I worry that I won’t have enough patience at the right time to help them. I worry that I am not reading their ‘signs’ well enough. I worry they won’t be able to express themselves appropriately. I worry, and I worry and I worry.
As the tears are leaking from my eyes again, I wish my boys experienced ‘normal’, but we dance around that! We have the ‘new normal’, it’s unique to us. It is stressful, it is tiring! We will encourage our boys to be friendly, we will teach them that sometimes, when you are rejected, it’s not about you. We will continue to talk about our feelings, and we will continue to experience the melt downs at home, and accept our children who have a real fear of social experiences.
But we will keep trying, and I will keep worrying………and one day, I hope they will understand.