March 1st of this year I was sick with a combination of the flu, a sinus infection, and strep throat. I could not physically get out of bed and simply laid for almost 48 hours, the longest I have been unable to care for my boys since their births. To say Jaylen was severely affected by those 2 days is an understatement.
Anxiety set in with a vengeance. Jaylen was on edge, crying constantly, and scared of everything around him. He cried at school drop off, then all throughout the school day. He cried when he went to bed, he cried when I wasn't at his side in our house, and he cried for what seemed like no reason at all. He carried around his Leapster Explorer (which has a digital camera) in order to look at a picture of me. He even fell asleep looking at the picture every night, even though I was physically less than 100 feet away.
We were able to assume the anxiety originated from my 2 days of quarantine, since there were no other changes in his life. Our assumptions were verified when one day a month later, I laid on the couch for just a few minutes, which is rare, and he started to panic, asking if I was getting sick again.
I cleared my schedule, switching my tutoring students to only times he was at school. I spent as many minutes of the day with him as possible. Then I attended a seminar on anxiety in children with Autism and the speaker, who had a PhD in anxiety (who even knew they had that?), said I was doing exactly the opposite of what I should. Rearranging my life to help Jaylen through this time was not helping him, but hurting him. I was enabling his feelings of anxiety and fear of me not always being present.
When my personal hurt at the thought of trying tough love became obvious, the doctor told a story of a mom who for 8 years was never apart from her daughter, except for school hours. The doctor had to counsel them from square one, starting with the mother leaving the house for two minutes to take out the garbage. The daughter screamed for the entire two minutes, but they were able to establish that both of them did not die, or get hurt. Over the next few years they increased the time apart until they had a healthy, normal relationship.
The example hit home, and in my deep subconscious I could see myself getting to a similar point with Jaylen if I didn't reign it in. So I slowly backed away, and he slowly became more independent again, which isn't a normal or typical level of independence, but it works. I equate it to my fear of bridges. If I always avoided them my panic and fear would increase until they evolved to the point I couldn't ever cross a bridge.
Autism, Jaylen and I all have a hand in that remaining umbilical cord. But I do realize I can take more steps to slowly snip at it. Even though Jaylen's future gives me heart palpitations, I do know I need to prepare him for that future, no matter how much it may hurt he or I in the process.
This post was written for Best of the Best on SOS Research Blog.
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