Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: Taming Worries

I have received quite a few questions lately on the topic of anxiety and Asperger Syndrome. While I freely admit my child is not (and really, are any AS kids truly the same?) typical in many ways, I can say that anxiety has been a difficult issue to confront.

Anxiety is not a defining symptom of Asperger's; I believe it shows itself once kids have begun to experience the social difficulties that so common to the disorder. Until about 4th grade, Wolf did not really appear anxious about anything in particular; he had some buddies at school, and while he did tend to have trouble settling occasionally in the classroom, academically his grades and effort were very good.

During the latter half of fourth grade, and certainly in fifth and sixth, when the girls magically grew women's bodies and in some cases attitudes to match, and boys started in the obnoxiously sweet practice of kidding, pushing, and generally kibbutzing each other, we noticed a difference.

Unable to understand the cues of such behavior and/or appearances, Wolf grew frustrated as he desperately tried to fit in. He failed miserably and grew more withdrawn at home and thus more anxious about attending school. Teachers did not understand; choosing instead to label him (sometimes to his face) as trouble, and so on and so on, etc. etc. ad naseaum.

At this point, I think, depending upon a child's personality and character, parents might see one of two things happen. In our case Wolf drew further and further into himself, prefering to read, watch television, and otherwise immerse himself in the fantasy worlds of Lord of the Rings, Dragonslayer, and the like; shows and books that depicted a hero who bests all odds to kill the bad guy. Looking back, I am sure that is how he felt, too.

A different side of anxiety, and one that a close friend is experiencing with her son, is a definite fear of failure. Not just at school, for he is homeschooled by the most patient, encouraging mother I could ever imagine, but everywhere. Sometimes kids are so frozen with fear of screwing up that they choose nothing. And nothing, we all know, while devastating, is still not failing.

Asperger's is more than a disability. It is who these kids are, ingrained in the very fiber of their confused souls, and I can only imagine the longings they feel to be like everyone else, even though they may have no idea what that might be. When Wolf was able to join me on a few outings in May, I could see his anxiety increase as our day of activities lasted probably longer than he could manage comfortably. He tried, oh, how he tried, to follow the guidelines set by the therapists and staff, and I don't think I have ever seen him as tired as when I dropped him off that evening. Anxiety wears down bodies as well.

It is frustrating for a parent to try and confront anxiety; we either lose patience after explaining the steps necessary to deal with the feelings and situations, or we, too, shut down and just ignore it, hoping that no attention is the best attention. But they don't get it. I am thankful Wolf has not had the violent stomach pains, headaches, and nightmares that plagued his sleep before he left for CHYC.

It is a lifelong process to manage anxiety; one that I am not sure I fully understand nor appreciate. We tell Wolf that the best he can do is the best we will expect, and we'll go from there.


dorothy said...

Hugs - linking over to this post. Excellent explanation and insight into the world our boys live in.

sushipie said...

I enjoyed your lovely post. My son is 6 years old and has an ASD. He cannot make friends on his own in an unfamiliar environment but he has tons of friends at school and at our apartment complex. He does struggle with anxiety but his teachers and friends are very willing to work with him and accept him for the way he is. I am worried like you mentioned with your son, that as his friends get older he won't be able to understand the social changes in them.