Anxiety, Autism, Getting ready for school, Health, Mornings, parenting

Managing severe anxiety and school refusal? A method from the heart.

Unable to get my son Hunter out of bed I try every trick in the book. I make tea, fizzy vitamin C and pancakes. I rubbed his stiff and sore muscles. I suggest how better he will feel once he is up moving around. I remind how he will feel proud of himself for going in on time. The covers are whipped off. The radio is put on. The alarm is left on by the pillow. I beg and plead. I begged. I begged. I leave the room to cry. The covers are back on. His back faces me. I put my hand on his shoulder.  Here we are again I say inside. I make the phone call.

“Hunter will not be in school today. He isn’t feeling well.” Again. Every day.

Anxiety is invisible. It is hard to spot from the outside. It can be hard to name what it is when you have it. The reason for having anxiety can be a multiple and varied. It can take over everything and leave the person affected unable to function.  It leads to people feeling suicidal in extreme cases. Anxiety is complicated, emotional physiological response to fear and uncertainty with very real physical symptoms. Hunters’ included tummy cramps, trouble breathing and migraines. My own includes sweating profusely and my mind going totally blank when asked questions.

These symptoms of anxiety can not be controlled by the sufferer. You can’t stop sweaty hands or tummy cramps. They are just there. A physical response to pressure. What matters is whether of not they over power our whole lives to the point where we can’t function. This happened to Hunter. His anxiety was so severe he couldn’t get out of bed. He couldn’t attend family events. He couldn’t attend school.

Sometimes anxiety looks like laziness. My son certainly appeared lazy. He was staying up late. Then all night. He was unable to sleep so was self soothing by reading or watching his favourite anime’s. Everyone said I wasn’t being tough enough. I should do more. Take away his internet. Take away his computer. Take away his weekly rock school if he didn’t go into school. I should allow him to fail.

“But he is failing,” I said in his Team Around the Child meeting, “Everyday!”

I knew there must be a better way than punishing him further. I just needed to find it. Besides we had tried the reward positive behaviour and

Anxiety creeps in and possibly never leaves. But it is possible to overcome it. Although it may never go completely. We have done it together. Here’s the method I followed.

I realised I couldn’t go on with this situation, neither could my son, neither could his Dad. His younger brothers were missing out on a relaxed family home. The only method that made sense was the following.

Come from the heart.

Hunter needed support. It was clear that he was is a very bad way. He struggled to speak to me about what was going on. He would answer questions vaguely. He told me he was depressed and he had anxiety. He said it was so bad he couldn’t even get out of bed. Slowly I was able to piece together how severe it was and that the main cause was the school environment.

Reduce expectations.

A few years before the problems had come to a head Hunter had told me our expectations of him were too high. I replied it was only because he was so damn talented and capable. But I noted it inside to reduce some of the expectations. Listening to our children is vital. But it wasn’t enough to change our expectations at home.

School life came with demands that he struggled with due to sensory over stimulation and poor organisational skills. Hunter had always struggled with completing home work through primary. At secondary school I am sure it was his inability to organise himself to do home work on time that started the refusals as students at his school receive negative codes if they don’t hand in work. Hunters solution, just don’t go.

Take away the cause of the anxiety where/if possible.

It took us a long time to decide to Home Ed, over 2 years of refusal which became steadily worse, and it wasn’t easy to let go. But as soon as we had done it we saw improvements. During the following weeks and months our son relaxed. He played with his brothers, he ate more, he pushed his long hair out of his eyes and best of all he smiles and laughs with us.

Provide something positive to build confidence.

We needed Hunter to want to get up and go out even though he wasn’t attending school. We wanted him to have social experiences that were enjoyable. Luckily we found some amazing music experiences that have completely changed his life through giving him the confidence to be out and with other people. He has been composing music with 14 other young musicians thanks to a fantastic programme locally. He even went to Birmingham to perform the song they had written together. He also spoke about his anxiety and how playing music with this group helps him to feel better on our County radio station.

After over a year of unschooling at home and lots of music activities Hunter is currently attending sixth form college and his attendance is steadily improving.

He still gets anxious but he is able to manage it because he is living his life on his terms.

I am incredibly proud of him.

*My son chose his own online alias Hunter.

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ASC, ASD, Autism, Getting dressed, Getting ready for school, Mornings, parenting, Siblings

The day my son got up at 7am without a wake up call from me.

I noticed something significant today. In fact I noticed two important things about Bear that hadn’t been clear until this morning.

One of the most obvious signs of my son Bear’s autism is that he is often in his own world. He is very happy there. He talks to himself and laughs. He seems so happy it doesn’t worry me that he has somewhere of his own to go. It only interrupts our lives when we need to get on with something in particular. Like getting ready in the morning.

When Bear is in his own world he doesn’t respond to us. Which means he doesn’t follow our instructions. Which means it takes a long time getting him ready.

I remember one time in particular when Bear was four and I had asked him to get his jumper from the chair. He gazed around the room but didn’t get the jumper even though he looked at it. I know he understood I had asked him to do something. He just didn’t know what it was.

His inability to follow verbal instructions was one of the main reasons that we knew he needed support and looked for his autism diagnosis. He has gradually improved and we needed to improve our own communication and expectations of him to achieve these improvements.

Last night I told Bear that he should stop reading  now (9pm), sleep and get up at 7am to read the comic. He said he would need a loud alarm clock to wake him up. Which is fair enough Bear is someone who struggles to get to sleep every night then struggles to wake up.

When he was younger he would get out of bed constantly and walk around the house. He’s only stopped doing this in the last year or so. Although we still have episodes of late night walking. Now we hear him talking to himself in bed until quite late. Often when we go to bed at 11pm he is still talking. Last night he settled easily. It was little something I had said went into his consciousness.

It has been a slow drawn out process to see changes. But sometimes they do appear to happen over night.

We have had to change our way of giving instructions to see improvement. I will give one specific command at a time. Instead of this vague and unspecific instruction, as he sits at the table after breakfast,

“Bear, go and get ready for school, we have to go soon.” I say,

“Bear, upstairs.” Then we go upstairs together.

I might then say, “Time to get dressed” or something similarly short and precise.

Once we are in his room I name each item of clothing he needs to put on and count down from ten for him to actually put the item on. Sometimes I have to pass him the socks or other items for him to respond.

Recently he has been getting dressed on his own without being asked on non school days. He puts on clean pants every morning because he has always takes off his pants after his first morning wee. He used to take his pants and trousers off after every wee. His getting dressed by himself at weekends involves him pulling on trousers and a hoody over his clean pants. This is progress but it was only happening at the weekend.

So the first amazing thing that happened this morning was that Bear woke up at exactly 7am. No alarm clock. No whispering sweet good mornings in his ear from me. No delivery of fizzy C (my current favourite method to getting him to wake up in a gentle but effective way) from me either. This is a first.

The next amazing thing that happened was when I asked him to put his pants and socks on he just did it. He went off and found the pants and socks I’d laid out and put them on. Without me in the room.

When he arrived in just pants and socks I tried this,

“Put your shirt and trousers on.”

Again, he came in wearing his trousers and shirts.

Something has changed inside Bear.

He is able to get up early on a school day and he is able to follow an instruction containing two items.

These two things are nothing short of a miracle in our getting dressed and ready for school routine.

I know why we’ve had such dramatic changes.

It’s all because of his younger brother Max.

Max has been up to all kinds of fun things early in the morning while his brother sleeps on innocently.

But Bear’s finally noticing what his younger brother is up to and he wants in. I guess he’s found a motivating force to get himself up in the mornings.

I wonder if you can guess what it is?

Max’s routine has always been markedly different to Bears.

Max goes to sleep easily in general. He consequently wakes up early (often very early but that’s another story). He hassles me for breakfast. He hassles me for whichever item of clothing he can’t find. He gets dressed. And then because there is time (usually an hour) he has been allowed to play his favourite game (usually Angry Birds) on his Papa’s mobile.

He has been doing this for over a year.

I’ve been wondering over the last few months how come Bear hasn’t noticed?

We have boundaries over computer/screen time because our boys would play from dawn to dawn without them. We would like them to have balanced lives. Get outside, ride their bicycles, walk, jump, play with sticks, the simple things. So they mostly only play for an hour or two in the evenings. Considering this I would have thought Bear might have noticed Max is getting to play Angry Birds games in the mornings.

Bear often comes into our room where Max is playing and watches him. This is where I need to add that Bear is completely obsessive about playing computer games (as is Max). He is so crazy for gaming on screens that not only do we have limited times when they can play on screens we also have to hide consoles, leads, put in passwords, and go to extreme lengths because he will find a way to play at any time of the day unless we outsmart him. All the gaming equipment has been disabled until we say it is time. So how come he hasn’t ever noticed or said anything about Max playing before school?

The answer is autism.

He doesn’t always have the awareness or consciousness to notice what others are doing. And in the morning if he is struggling to wake up, having been woken up before he has slept enough, then he isn’t really going to notice what Max is doing. Even if he is playing on a screen.

It makes me sad. But that’s how he is and it’s OK too.

The one thing I will not be doing is using playing on a screen as a method to motivate him to get up. We do that enough with the time he plays later in the day. But I’ll save that rant for another day.

Have you noticed differences between your children?

Please comment below.

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