advocacy · parenting · special needs parenting

Autism Awareness:  Autism Related Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsiveness 

There’s this thing that happens. When Benjamin knows he’s going somewhere his anxiety skyrockets and he perseverates until he leaves. 

So, yesterday when he went to Grammy’s house, we told him when it was time to put his shoes on.  Even though he loves going to Grammy’s house, from the time he finds out he’s going until the car is under way, he cannot avoid an anxiety attack.  As soon as we leave his world is back in order and he’s just ducky. 

This goes for any outing. 

The anxiety used to cause vomiting, but thankfully now it’s only gagging and retching. 

I suspect there are a few factors playing into this. The perseverative behavior of autism, the inability to tell time, which is truly a complete incapacity to understand the flow of time at all, and the intolerance for having any need go unmet.  It makes for tricky parenting. 

In response we go into ninja mode. 

Ninja mode means that we sneak around and go to great extremes to avoid raising Ben’s suspicion that we might be leaving. For example, for a visit to our new house I did all the packing while he was doing his flush and seated on the potty for an hour. 

It’s a high stakes game, because if we slip and he figures out that we’re going somewhere we get stuck in the anxiety cycle of him asking repeatedly “Go bye bye?”  Or if he understands the destination, “Go Grammy’s?” Or “Go doctor?”   It happens a few times a minute from the moment he realizes we’re supposed to go somewhere until he is out of the driveway, and is punctuated by his retching and gagging. 

When such a drastic error occurs it’s often best to just leave the house and drive around until it’s time to arrive at our destination. Distraction rarely works. Picture schedules don’t help, and once the anxiety is triggered there is no going back until we leave. 

Anxiety disorders are common in people with autism, as are the obsessive compulsive or perseverative behaviors exhibited here.  This is just one of Ben’s flavors of autism/anxiety/obsessive compulsiveness, one that significantly impacts his quality of life and ours.  Ben has an unspecified anxiety disorder that has some qualities of separation anxiety plus his own little spin of anticipatory anxiety. While he has some significant obsessive compulsive behaviors, he has never been diagnosed with the disorder. 

Autism is a spectrum disorder and presents differently in each individual, this is just a brief illustration of how autism impacts Ben. This is why supports and therapies are crucial, because it’s the best way to build his tolerance for normal daily activities so that he can live a full and complete life with autism rather than being isolated by it. 

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