Today started with grey skies and the threat of more rain so I started in trousers, but then half an hour out the sun shone and I began to get too hot. Thinking that as I had not seen anyone for 20 minutes at least It was safe to change into shorts I hastily began only to find 2 ladies on horse back appeared from nowhere! It was a wonderful example of the English not noticing, they greeted me mid change with a cheery good morning and apparently completely failed to see my struggles. I didn’t see anyone then for at least an hour, serendipity or good planning I am not sure.
Today was so quiet it gave me a chance to think a bit more about how anxiety can make life so difficult. Yesterday the vicar and the spider incident (see yesterday’s blog)made me think through the overwhelming impact anxiety can have and how most of us deal with this by using social communication skills, planning, evaluating and adaptation. These skills are so fragile in children on the autism spectrum and at times of stress can fail completely.
The vicar was able to recognise that there was a problem, “I have a phobia of spiders”,then was able to ask for help, “please could someone move it I can’t concentrate”, she tolerated the help given in that she watched me like a hawk and then acknowledged when I said “the spider is finished” once I had gently lobbed it into the side chapel, and then she could move on. The part I played in removing the spider was the easy bit, it is not difficult to do something if you are not frightened. The hero in yesterday’s story was the vicar who managed to apply strategies that helped overcome the problem.
The process the vicar went through was multi-stage but started with the fact that she clearly recognised that there was a problem. Perhaps could help our children who struggle daily with anxiety to recognise when a problem exists and what it is. This would equip them with the means to alert those around them that there is anxiety mounting. Telling someone not to worry is not going to do the trick, acknowledging that there is a problem,at least from one perspective, does not mean you escalate it, it is simply planting the concept and recognises what the child is feeling. We can remain calm and and this helps create a pause for thought. It can take time to get that pause but it is possible!
The children with high anxiety levels are heroes every day tackling places, clothes, foods, people sounds and experiences that can trigger powerful surges of worry that suddenly turn their world to worms. It’s hard work and it’s tiring!
Throughout the day I have been thinking about how often I rely on using social communication skills when things go wrong. I used body lotion in the shower thinking it is conditioner but I laughed about it with a friend and then posted it on Facebook — the anxiety of feeling foolish was diminished. If I get the wrong side of a hedge so can’t cross a railway track, I can talk to myself about how it’s OK to back track and later over lunch share a moment about maps with a fellow walker.
The shared stories of map reading problems make me feel OK. It would all be so much harder if I couldn’t or didn’t understand how such strategies worked. At times of stress it is so hard to stay sensible, it is easy to get cross or upset, you feel silly and vulnerable. It must be doubly hard for the children.
We try in the therapy sessions to model making mistakes and recovering, to use times when things go wrong to show it happens to us too. We don’t always get it right, attempts made are not always successful, of course, as not all problems are fixable but we need to model resilience, trying again, looking and guessing and asking for help and to do this in ways that work for both the children that can talk and those that are in the earlier stages of communication.
We can model thinking out loud or looking deeply puzzled, we can model having another go and coping when things still don’t work, we can model struggling to get things right as well as celebrating things that go well. We can do this regularly and make sure we plant the strategies for life.
Anyone who spied on me today would have seen me living this thinking as I tried to open a packet of crisps, find toilets and blanking suddenly on the magic numbers for my debit card. Early signs of madness surely not I think it’s therapy !!!
The scenery was huge with fields of corn as far as the eye could see.
The signage was variable and reminded me that if you are going to use visually supported communication you need to:
- a) Be able to see it
- b) Know where to look.
- c) I must remember this when I am working with the children!
There was a putting green just outside the cafe window and I watched fully grown men spend half an hour trying to get a small white ball into a hole or bashing whole buckets full one at a time out of a mock bunker. I think the bashing a whole bucket full looked more fun but there was such a lot of head shaking and sighing going on!
So much to think about and so lucky to have the time to do it.