Autism and Anxiety

If you know anything about autism, you probably know autism and anxiety are two peas in a pod.  Our oldest son has struggled with severe anxiety for a little over a year now.

He will panic about things like storms and weather related issues.  If the clouds get too dark, he’ll lock all the doors and command everyone to stay inside where it’s safe.  He is certain at any moment, a tornado is going to pick our house up like it did in “The Wizard of Oz.”

He can end up in an anxiety attack over an item being misplaced.  If a lego that belongs at our in-laws ends up coming home with the boys, he is a mess until we get it back to them.

He’s terrified of the unknown (aren’t we all?) and anything related to shots or bodily harm.  I blame this mostly on an unfortunate blood draw about eight months ago that we have yet to recover from.

autism & anxiety via my life as a rinnagade

We have an old, wing-back chair in our living room that I love. (This not a strange subject change…hang with me…)

It’s broken in, sturdy, and reminds  me of that Kenny Chesney song, “Old Blue Chair.” It doesn’t match anything, and my husband hates it, but I love it because it’s my “spot” in the living room.  When it’s too cold to go outside to my porch swing, I have my morning quiet time in this chair and I love to stuff as many kids as possible on it when we have a family movie night.

But the chair has received another tally mark in the negative column recently.

It shot my son.

Like most boys, our kids don’t realize you are supposed to sit on a chair, not stand on the top of its back.  In our “O.T. mindset“, we don’t really mind that the boys jump on the furniture.  I think secretly it’s our attempt to let them ruin it so we’ll have no choice but to buy new furniture ;).

So one Saturday morning, our oldest was bouncing on the chair, climbing up its back, and that’s when it happened.  A “shot heard round the world”…

“I’VE BEEN SHOT!!!!!!!!”

Now, you know from my post The Woman at the Pool, I do not use caps non-judicially in my writing.

So, yes, he was screaming.

My husband and I jumped from what we were doing.  Our son was hysterical.  We tried to figure out what happened and translate what he said.  “Been shot” we assumed meant “something that felt like a shot happened.”  We were right.

One of the decorative buttons which pushes into the chair came off and the back of it poked his foot.  autism&anxiety2 via my life as a rinnagade It did bleed a tiny bit, which began his frantic questions: “Is this bad?  How do we stop the bleeding?!” “All the blood’s leaving my body!” “Why does this keep happening to me?!”  “Am I going to DIE??!”

I’d be lying if I said it’s easy to keep a strait face when your son thinks something the size of a paper cut has the ability to kill him.

But he really thought that.

That’s what’s important to remember.

My husband and I are no strangers to anxiety attacks.  We have personally “enjoyed” these trials.  They are a very real thing and they feel so debilitating at the time.  Even as rational adults, we struggle to “talk ourselves out of them,” so picture that amplified for a non-rational child with autism.

What to Do During an Autism Anxiety Attack

Take Three Deep Breaths

You and them.  Being the parent in the situation is no picnic either.  Any wrong reaction can spur further anxiety and the reaction he is looking for do not always make sense.  Your knee-jerk reaction of “Oh, you’re fine…” is wrong, by the way.  He’s NOT okay, clearly, if he’s having an anxiety attack.  No matter how bizarre the reason for the attack (a tiny cut on his foot) is irrelevant.  Move on to helping him; don’t try to talk him out of it.  And yes, literally take three deep breaths and encourage him to do the same.

Give Physical and Tangible Reassurance

If it’s taking an item back, maybe put it in the mailbox until you can get it where it goes.  Lock the door during a thunderstorm so the lightning can’t get in.  Give them some sort of physical & tangible reassurance.

During the chair shooting incident, my husband took him into our bathroom, ran warm water over the “wound”, wrapped it in an towel and applied a bandage when it dried.  This was PROOF that it was going to be okay.  When our son began to panic again, we could redirect him to his bandage and remind him of the warm water and towel and he’d calm down.  His logic: Because we’d done those things, it must mean things are better.

Do Not Try to Speak Logically

There’s no rationalizing; speak his language.  As ridiculous as it seems to you, this is a real issue for them.  In the heat of an autism anxiety attack, the person under attack is CERTAIN disaster is eminent.

Use Distraction

During an anxiety attack, we get his blanket, wrap him tight and sit on the couch.  Then we read to him or put on a movie.  Most of the time, this is not a real issue that needs resolution; you’re waiting out the storm of the anxiety attack.  Do NOT try to solve problems in the midst of it.  Take notes and talk about the situation when you child is calm and disconnected from the event.

Avoid the Triggers

If you know storms are a trigger, don’t plan an outing during one…or whatever your trigger is.  Use common sense here.

Let Him Tell You What He Can Handle

If he brings up a trigger in a non-threatening way, go with it cautiously.  Our son has since mentioned storms and said “oh, it’s raining, but we’re inside.”  Praise and engage “yes, see, we’re inside so we’re safe.”  Give little bits of information at a time.

Get Some Help

If this is a reoccurring problem, you need some help.  It is not good for anyone in the family to have someone living at such a high stress level.  We do not medicate with prescriptions, but our doctor “prescribed” us a supplement that has absolutely changed our lives.  It helps to stabilize our son’s moods and keep him closer to “the middle” than to highs and lows.  This, of course, helps with anxiety.

How about you? 

Have you or a loved one struggled with autism and/or anxiety attacks? 

How do you calm anxious nerves?

30 COMMENTS

  1. Cindy | 20th Jul 15

    Hi Jen,
    Thanks for stopping by!
    It’s really important to know that our supplements were suggested to us by our biomedical doctor. You should seek to find a biomedical doctor before starting a supplement plan so he can rule out any allergies first. The supplements to inquire about are Serotrex and Inositol. We also do Lavender essential oils (I’ve heard Calm works well – need to try that).

  2. Jen | 17th Jul 15

    We do not medicate for our son’s anxiety either, but I am very curious about the supplements you use.

  3. What a Year in Public School Has Taught Us - My Life as a Rinnagade homeschool, autism, healthy living | 25th May 15

    […] worst days, we had to suck it up and move forward. We did homework, we worked through meltdowns and anxiety attacks, we balanced school days with sports in the afternoons, and we had fun days in school even after […]

  4. Marina @ Mommy Snippets | 19th Jul 14

    Aww, poor guy. I can relate to him, as I deal with a little anxiety myself at times.

  5. Kasey | 19th Jul 14

    My daughter (and myself) have panic attacks (not from autism – just part of our life, I guess) and your tips are right on to help us get through them. Distraction is best for us. Anything to get your mind off the trigger – no matter how big or small it is.

  6. Ashley | 19th Jul 14

    Oh bless his heart! That would be traumatic for any kid!!

  7. trisha | 19th Jul 14

    I love when bloggers explain stuff like this because it helps me understand the kids around me! Thanks for the lesson 🙂

  8. Crystal | 19th Jul 14

    Anxiety is such a scary thing. I’ve never had to deal with it with an autistic person, but I can imagine it’s much harder.

  9. Cindy | 19th Jul 14

    Thanks, Crystal!

  10. Cindy | 19th Jul 14

    Yes, so important to give them space!

  11. Valerie Remy-Milora | 18th Jul 14

    Thanks for all the great tips. My 7 year old gets overwhelmed easily and becomes hyper sensitive to certain sound frequencies and overly anxious. I’ve learned to give her the space she needs, and make myself available for hugs and reassuring words if she is ready to hear them. Sometimes she just wants quiet and for me to just hold her without saying a word.

  12. Liz Mays | 17th Jul 14

    That is such great advice not to try to reason or logic the child. That makes total sense.

  13. Crystal | 17th Jul 14

    My 8 year old son is autistic and he definitely has his moments. You shared some great tips for helping get them through it!

  14. Cindy | 17th Jul 14

    So true! Thanks, Jennifer

  15. Cindy | 17th Jul 14

    Thanks, Chris! I’m pretty sure you can still take the boogie man 😉

  16. Melissa | 17th Jul 14

    Oh, poor babe! These are some great tips. My son has anxiety too.

  17. Chris Lindsey | 17th Jul 14

    Great article! I am always looking for other ways to reassure my kids that everything will be okay. “I can beat up the boogie man” is getting old, I’m not sure they believe me anymore.

  18. Jennifer @ My Sweet Sanity | 17th Jul 14

    My two on the spectrum are like this too. My oldest in particular has severe anxiety issues. Storms, blood & injuries are also triggers for him and at first it is so hard to wrap your mind around some of the things that set them off until you get used to speaking and thinking their way.

  19. Cindy | 17th Jul 14

    Sara, I’m so glad and you’re welcome!

  20. Cindy | 17th Jul 14

    Hope you find some of the tips helpful! It is so hard when your kids are young and don’t really understand what’s happening.

  21. Cindy | 17th Jul 14

    Distraction works pretty well for us, too! Glad your daughter is able to overcome it easily :).

  22. Kimberly Grabinski | 17th Jul 14

    My daughter gets anxious around storms and stuff but nothing extreme. She will very rarely get irrational where no amount of reassuring will help. We usually just try and distract her until she calms down.

  23. Stefanie | 17th Jul 14

    Poor thing. I suffer from anxiety, so I can imagine how tough it must be on a kid. 🙁

  24. robyn | 17th Jul 14

    poor kiddo! our 6 year old has anxiety attacks and they are so hard for him. i read over your tips carefully as i am always looking for more information to help him

  25. Mickey | 17th Jul 14

    I’m glad you were able to calm him down and comfort him. It sounds like it was very upsetting for him.

  26. Sara P. (@SensiblySara) | 17th Jul 14

    I could not have read your anxiety tips at a better time. THANK YOU for them!

    I am glad your kiddo finally calmed down and will recover from ‘the shot.’ 🙂

  27. Mel Outnumbered | 17th Jul 14

    Poor kiddo. I’m glad you were able to finally calm him. My youngest had an anxiety attack over a bee in the backseat one day.

  28. Ronda | 17th Jul 14

    I myself struggle with panic attacks and anxiety! As much as I try and tell myself everything is fine, your body is telling you differently by releasing that over abundance of adrenaline! I do not medicate either, but would love some relief! Thank you for sharing your story 🙂

  29. Daisy | 17th Jul 14

    My son had an anxiety attack for the first time and it freaked me out. We are definitely working on removing the trigger. Poor little guy. It scared me so much to see him like that.

  30. Jesica H | 17th Jul 14

    Oh, I know the feeling of anxiety attacks as well. I agree with you on that it is hard to keep a straight face in some of these situations… but glad to hear you have a solution that works for you. 🙂

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