Whisper it very quietly. A red rose in Yorkshire. The white rose is our counties symbol and our historic rival, Lancashire has a red rose. The two neighbours have had bloody civil wars and conflicts over the crown…. Now thankfully the battles are restricted to the sports field.
Not the only battle being waged here.
Anxiety and adverse reactions to it, are very common for individuals who are on the autistic spectrum. It can take so many forms
- Social fears and crowds
- Fear of being alone
- Germs and illnesses
- Eating and food types
- Bright lights and colours
- Types of clothing
Too many to list. Some of these may have sensory origins and appropriate medical help should be sort. Whether that help is available is another matter….
Our son has had to face down and battle a number of these fears. One fear in particular has been ever present. The fear of illness, germs and death. These are genuine, life altering fears and anxieties. Fears which became even more real to him when he lost his mum and both grannies in such a short period of time. We were lucky in that finally his medical notes were passed to a young nurse counsellor. Over the last few years she has done stellar work with him. He trusts her fully – no mean feat. Unfortunately government cutbacks have resulted in far less contact time. Any contact has now temporarily ceased due to the pandemic.
The pandemic has really shaken things up. For our son it has ramped up his fears and anxieties. Now they are off the chart. This manifests itself in so many ways
- Constant hand and face washing,
- Frequent hand washing finally taking its toll on the skin,
- Repeated changes of clothes,
- Reluctance to leave the house or garden,
- Refusal to touch many items – telephones, handles, gates, letters, food packaging, surfaces and clothes which have not been washed that very day,
- Trips to the bathroom every time a bug or fly brushes against him (summer and living next to farm land mean that can be every few minutes),
- Refusal to venture anywhere near strangers and anyone outside of our household – one of the reasons I can’t arrange for someone to come and repair our boiler,
- Any food deliveries or parcels having to go into quarantine for at least 4 days before they are let into the house.
So we battle on. Eventually his nurse counsellor will be able to see him but until then it’s self care.
- We try to maintain a diary. Record and document the anxieties. Try to get a handle on what we are dealing with. Is it improving or getting worse. What improves things and what makes things worse.
- Trying to balance avoidance with small doses of learning exposure. Yes avoidance works but it doesn’t address the route cause. So carefully controlled small anxiety exposures needs to be factored in. Yesterday that involved both of us putting our hands on the grass for a minute. Then without washing our hands observe if anything bad happens….
- Trying to slowly control the hand washing. Setting a time limit on the seconds he is allowed to wash his hands for. Currently that’s the time it takes to say a nursery rhyme. Trying to encourage him not to use soap for a number of the hand washes. Get into the habit of properly washing hands when IT IS NECESSARY.
- Yes he has a range of fears but we can’t deal with them all at the same time. So we only ever deal with one fear at a time.
- Allow as much access to those things which help him relax. If he wants to go on YouTube, or play an Xbox Game, or watch a movie – then he does….
We all have fears and anxieties. Some disappear, new ones appear and some stay with us for life. With Autism and Aspergers these fears can so easily be ramped up. Yes we hopefully can find ways to eliminate our worries but realistically some fears are with us for life. I guess the secret is trying to provide a range of tools and strategies which we can have at our disposal to help manage those fears when they strike. In that way it still allows us to keep living and enjoying life. That’s the plan with our son.