Somewhere I heard that a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder walks into a socially demanding environment (school, work, public place) with as much anxiety as someone who was just in a minor car accident. The heart rate, the shaking, the overwhelming thoughts that rush the mind. And as typical people, the first thing we do when after the car accident is we talk about it; we call our friends, we tell our co-workers, call our spouse. We go on and on and on using language to cope and to process.
People with Autism often cannot do that. So the anxiety builds and builds, the fear takes over. And opportunities are quickly turned into avoidance.
The texts began around 11am yesterday. She didn’t want to go to the hospital job. All the excuses she could come up with were given….all except the real reason, until the very end of the day when it looked as though I was not going to cave.
“I am scared, I don’t remember what to do”. She wanted to quit. “I hate my life. Life is not worth it”. No longer was the job a source of pride or of accomplishment or even of dreams. It was too hard.
I knew that if I didn’t get her back there some sort for success, she was not going to ever be able to go back. Without anyone to support her, I put out the expectation of the part of the task I knew she could do, and together we slowly navigated the hospital, looking for landmarks to recall room locations and using as many visual as we could. Although I was with her in proximity, I refrained from using a lot of language. I allowed her to find some comfort in her own success. I was simply a quiet support, just in case.
I saw her shaking. Her voice quivering when she responded to a nurse’s hello. I saw her tears.
I also a girl who could do this. I saw a girl who needed to do this.
When her tasks were completed, she signed out with success. The bells and whistles of excitement were hidden in my heart and instead, a high-five and “good job” was all I knew she could handle at that moment. We talked about next week adding more by going into 4 patient rooms.
As we drove home in silence I was reminded of many things. I was reminded of the anxiety that is a beast that lies hidden beneath the dreams and hopes of my girl. I was reminded that being a mom sometimes pushes you harder than you can imagine. I was reminded that success looks different for everyone. I was reminded that for even the experiences she wants to do, avoidance is easier.
I was reminded that my soul’s purpose is to learn and I was reminded of the beautiful teacher that my daughter is.