Sunday, April 17, 2016

Holding On

After more than two dozen years of being Alex’s mom, I have learned to take most things in stride that autism has thrown at us and to see most days optimistically. However, to be honest, the day-to-day demands of caring for a child––even though he is by age an adult––with autism can sometimes overwhelm me and push me to my limits of patience. On those thankfully rare days, I allow myself to indulge in a brief pity party and then move forward, knowing that I have plenty of ways to spend my time more productively.

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, Alex has been dealing with increased anxiety lately, which means that I have also been dealing with anxiety––his and mine. While he can freely express his anxiety through trembling, trying to avoid situations that trigger nervousness, and communicating his upset by grabbing my hands as a means of getting my attention and seeking comfort, I must keep my worries about him hidden from him, knowing that my fears will escalate his. He needs for me to be calm.

Trying to figure out the source of his fears, I have mentally reviewed potential causes both physical and emotional, wracked my brain for any changes that could cause him to be anxious, and searched for possible solutions to help him feel calm and secure. In addition, I have discussed my concerns with Ed, who assures me that he trusts my judgment completely; Alex’s team of therapists, who concur with my suspicions and methods; and my mom, who sympathizes with me and eases my confusion on a daily basis. Through all of my mental sorting through my observations, research, and mother’s intuition, I have prayed for guidance and wisdom, for God to show me what I need to do to help Alex and to help me remain calm and patient as I waited for answers.

Is it yeast overgrowth in his digestive tract? Is it allergies? Is it the change to Daylight Savings Time that has disturbed his sleep cycles? Is it the wacky spring weather we’re having? Do his medications need tweaking? Is there some therapy or intervention we’re not doing that we should be?

Is he unhappy with his therapists because they know his potential and are pushing him toward attainable goals? Is he bored with the current routine? Is he trying to show independence by balking at what we tell him to do?

Is he really that upset about not being able to drive, as he lets me know when he is grounded as a consequence for poor choices? Is he picking up on my stress from trying to balance my job as a teacher and my primary role as his mom/caretaker/advocate? Is he sad that American Idol is over? Is April really, as poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “the cruellest month”?

Is he going through a healing process that is uncomfortable, the way growing pains plague children or an injury itches as it’s getting better? Is he getting better or worse? Is his mother overthinking and overanalyzing a situation that is only temporary?

A couple of weeks ago, Alex let me know that he was anxious because I refused to honor his request to cancel a therapy session. After he grabbed my hands, glared at me, and refused to talk, I found myself in one of my rare low times. Just as Alex grasps my hands in desperation, a way to let me know that he’s unhappy and can’t find the words, I needed to grab onto my mom. Telephoning her and letting pent up tears flow freely, I explained, “I’m okay; I’m just so tired and frustrated.” As she cried with me, her anxious child, she also comforted and reassured me, giving me the strength I needed to move forward. Just as I know that my mom can always comfort me, Alex relies upon me to comfort him. He knows that even when he can’t express the reason for his upset, I always understand his feelings of anxiety and will do everything in my power to help and reassure him.

Last weekend, as we were driving home after a nice dinner at a restaurant, the rain gave way to sunshine, and a beautiful rainbow appeared above the farm fields we were passing. As we gazed at the intense colors, I reminded Alex of the rainbow’s significance, telling him, “Rainbows remind us that God always keeps His promises.” Alex smiled and seemed to take this symbolic appearance to heart.

Other than a few occasional anxious moments, Alex is thankfully doing better this week. In fact, he shows signs of progress, not just in dealing with his anxiety, but also in his willingness to do things that would venture outside his typical comfort zone. For example, on Wednesday, when his peer companion had to cancel their session suddenly due to illness, Alex eagerly accepted a spontaneous change of schedule with an offer to visit my parents and thoroughly enjoyed his time at their house. In addition, he has been excited about being able to go outside, something he sometimes avoids, probably due to sensory overstimulation, and has enjoyed kicking a football in our backyard. Yesterday, we took him to a university women’s softball game, something he had been looking forward to for weeks, and he had a great time.

Along with the easing of his anxiety, Alex has also shown promising signs of progress. For example, we have noticed that he has been speaking more clearly at a more audible volume and in longer and more complete sentences. Essentially, he seems to be having a language breakthrough right now. Also, his eye contact has been especially good this week. He often comes running to tell us something that he has seen on television or read online or in a book, eagerly and clearly relating something he has discovered, all the while looking directly at us. Perhaps my theory of the itching before the healing wasn’t too far off, after all.

This recent return of anxiety has reminded us that Alex’s progress is not linear; he must go through ups and downs to get to where he needs to be. When those trying times ease, we are thankful and look for the blessings that inevitably follow. In the meantime, we continue to pray for his complete healing, and until that blessed event happens, we hold his hands literally and figuratively, reminding him that we will never allow him to fall and that God always keeps his promises.

“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.” Hebrews 10:23

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