Finding Ourselves on the Autism Spectrum

Freaking out

This is the third new post I’ve started in as many days. My thoughts just haven’t been coming together around anything in particular. I think I’ve got something to share now, though.

I was woken in the middle of the night last by a six-foot-tall teenager telling me he was “freaking out” and couldn’t get back to sleep. I have a tendency to freak out myself when my sleep is suddenly interrupted – that really made the baby years fun – so I wasn’t exactly at my best for handling the situation. It seems that what put my already anxiety-prone son over the edge was watching a scary TV show last evening. This is usually supposed to be an issue for younger kids, but it’s not that way at our house.

I hadn’t even authorized the viewing of this particular show, which was, by the way, not one of the scariest Doctor Who episodes I’ve ever seen. But you can never tell what’s going to hit a nerve with another person, and I get that. I personally stopped watching a lot of crime dramas, because that stuff really happens to people, so it does tend to bother me. I’m not so much worried about aliens moving into secret rooms in my house that I don’t know exist or impersonating me while I’m in a coma.

So it’s my fault the show was available, because I mostly record them for me. Hubby is finally watching some with me, mostly because a lot of his favorite shows are into reruns, and there aren’t any compelling sporting events to watch at the moment. So he gave a couple episodes a try and decided it was actually kind of fun. Also, Alvin usually likes a lot of what I like, so he starts watching any time I turn on an episode when he happens to be around. Even the very sensitive seven-year-old Theodore has started being OK with having the show on and not feeling a need to go elsewhere, so I figured maybe we were OK in terms of everybody’s comfort level. And thanks to our new trial DVR setup – which we’ll probably have to give up after the introductory low price runs out – we can watch anything we have recorded on any of the televisions in the house. So while Simon was supposed to be getting his homework finished in the basement, Alvin turned on the episode, and that’s when the work stopped.

Simon actually can’t stop watching something once it’s got his attention. I’ve tried. He’s tried. I can yell right next to him or even walk around in front of the TV waving at him, and he just keeps looking around me, even though he knows it’s going to cause trouble. No matter what is on or who is watching, everyone in the house now knows to respond to the word “pause” where the TV is concerned, so that I can get my kid back. (In a house full of guys with a mom who can only mentally attend to one thing at a time, this is sometimes necessary with the rest of us, as well :)) Even Simon can usually pause the show, but he can’t just stop watching or look away while it’s playing. So it was a bit of a challenge when I came by inquiring about the status of his homework to get Simon back working again. Alvin paused the show, but Simon was hooked in by then, and kept begging me to let him finish. I probably would have gone along if it wasn’t getting so late in the evening and if I wasn’t already worn out from a snow day at home with the kids.

It turned out that there was more than one unfinished homework assignment, and one assignment was missing altogether. So we spent the next half hour looking for the missing assignment while I was supposed to be making dinner, but we didn’t end up finding it. Simon eventually got his other assignments done, and I agreed to let him finish the show – there were only 15 minutes left, anyway. He mentioned that it was kind of creepy, but he smiled as he said it, probably because he really likes the funny bits, so I wasn’t especially concerned. Some things bother him and some don’t, and it’s hard to predict what will be a problem. It turned out that this was a problem.

Simon came downstairs a while after going to bed and was a bit restless. He said he might be a bit wound up from the show, and I asked if he had something more relaxing to read in bed. It took a few minutes, but he came up with his copy of Cheaper by the Dozen – he’s listened to the whole book on CD many times, but this was a paperback copy he decided to try – and things were looking good. It’s a comfort thing for him, and I was pleased that he had come up with the idea on his own. When I went upstairs a little while later, he was already asleep. Problem solved. Not.

So I get the knock on my door sometime between midnight and one. The first thing I tell my son is No More Doctor Who. Then, in my confused and stressed and under-pressure-to-fix-things state, I spend an unfortunate period of time listing all the problems that this has caused and would probably cause in the near future – my inability to get back to sleep, the fact that we both had to be up at 5AM and would both likely be useless then, the fact that he was going to be extra tired while trying to deal with talking to his teacher about his missing assignment and also returning to the new class this semester that already had him so upset that he had to leave class the day before, etc. And I let him know that I didn’t have a quick fix.

When I had started to calm down a little, I found myself talking to Simon about taking control of his thoughts and developing some skills in less stressful moments that he could have ready when he did find himself “freaking out”. I talked about my personal spiritual beliefs and about finding his own beliefs that could carry him through difficulties. I mentioned that sometimes the good in the difficulties we experience is that we are motivated to reach for something better than just learning to live with discomfort – that we can have more than that and are meant for more than that. I also told him that when I wake up on my own once in a while “freaking out”, there are things I read and ideas that I focus on that help to remind me that I get to choose which thoughts to hang on to in my mind and which to send packing -that just because a thought appears in my head doesn’t mean I have to claim it and feed it and make it my own.

I’ve tried having some of these talks before, but because the subject isn’t entertaining, it’s hard for Simon to pay attention for long. That’s always bothered me, because I know what it is to have some measure of these problems, and I want for my son to be able to have the help that I’ve had. He seemed fairly motivated right then, and we didn’t have anything else to work with, so he went along. I got him to work on counting and slowing his breathing – that’s one we’ve practiced before – and I prayed out loud and said some affirmation-type stuff that I’ve personally found helpful, and he started to feel calmer. He even came up with an affirmative thought of his own. I stayed in the room while he went to sleep.

Here’s the cool part. This morning, after we both woke up enough to be somewhat coherent, Simon told me that something had changed for him. He said that before the way he’d always gotten through things was to just put things that were bothering him back in some corner of his mind and try to just move around them or ignore them, but they were still there. He said that in just a few minutes of listening and breathing he was able to feel so much better and like he really could choose different thoughts. I mentioned that he could use some of what he’s learned on his own the next time he’s having a difficulty, and that we’d have a better starting point the next time he wants help from me, since we have an idea what’s working for him. He plans to write some helpful thoughts down at bedtime to keep next to him for when he’s having a problem. If that works out for him, I think I might suggest that being a helpful practice for before problems start.

Once we were both in this better frame of mind, Simon found his missing homework assignment. He even had time to complete most of it before leaving for school. As I keep finding to be the case, we didn’t get to choose the experience we were going to have last night and this morning, but we did get to choose how to respond. We even got to choose again after getting off to a bumpy start. And for us that gave the experience meaning and value.

I’m glad I’ve found a place to share these moments. This isn’t exactly Facebook material. πŸ™‚


Comments on: "Freaking out" (16)

  1. Lovely Hubby is a Doctor Who fan. BB likes Daleks in theory but can’t sit through an episode because he doesn’t understand any of the plots. I’m quite pleased because otherwise we’d have these kind of problems too, I’m sure. Well done Simon and well done you for making it into such a useful and positive lesson.

    • Hi, BBsmum.

      BB will be just as well without any extra scary things in his life, I’m sure, but glad to hear your Hubby is a fan.

      Thanks for your support. It’s becoming another one of “those” days today, and I can use all the support I can get πŸ™‚

  2. I have done the exact same thing as he did, feeling like I had no choice but to keep those negative thoughts. He described it very well. I used to wake up in fears a lot, I still do this when I am under a huge amount of stress or anxiety about something. It usually manifests through me thinking that some one is in the house or that something terrible has happened to David or the kids.

    Now that I understand that these “freak outs” are only a chemical response or my brain having a problem processing something I do much better at calming down. I usually pray or write down what I am feeling and then I am able to calm down. I have on occasion had to wake up David and have him pray with me or talk to me.

    I am so glad that this turned out good and that he was able to find a tool to help him in the future. You had some great advice to give and the understanding to know that he could receive it. That is a great thing! I am happy to hear about the assignment too! I used to loose my homework all the time, I still loose a lot of things like that. 😦 I do not know why, I will put it in a “safe” place and then forget!

    • Thanks for the support, Angel. These things can be so challenging, and it’s good to be able to share ideas that help. I appreciate you sharing yours.

      I like what you said about the chemical response to processing problems. I hadn’t really considered it that way before. I have a tendency to judge these responses in myself and to think if I were only more spiritually or emotionally or psychologically evolved this wouldn’t be happening to me, but maybe just knowing how to deal with it when it happens is actually doing pretty well. I wouldn’t judge somebody for having a tic or a seizure or some other involuntary response to some internal stimulus. I guess I’ve had it in my mind that this is a psychological condition, but I hadn’t fully considered that maybe it’s more of a neurological one. Regardless, I don’t think it’s been all that helpful to judge myself – and probably on some level my son, too. I think I’m going to share this idea with him and see how he feels about that concept.

      Thanks. That was really helpful πŸ™‚

  3. This is good to hear. Thanks for sharing your insights Diane. So glad this worked out so well for you and Simon. You have given him some valuable tools.
    When my mind runs wild I have had some success reigning it in with: being mindful of my breath/thoughts/emotions, Christian Meditation, The Jesus Prayer, going for a walk, reading the Bible or devotionals, deep relaxation, patting the dogs, talking to my wife, visiting uplifting blogs, etc.. It is good to have some tools at the ready, and to practice using them. πŸ™‚

    • Hi Bruce.

      It’s so good to hear from you. I really like your toolbox list. It’s so helpful to have options when the first thing you try isn’t doing the trick. I especially like having lots of ideas at the ready, because what works for me isn’t always the same as what works for my son. And practicing and seeing the results really does help to build confidence so that we’re more inclined to use a tool that’s helpful the next time we run into a problem. I get excited when my son finds a tool that works for him, because I know he’ll be more accepting of using that tool from that point on.

      Thanks for sharing your ideas and encouragement. πŸ™‚

  4. I’m glad it worked out; those middle of the night freak outs are hard to deal with (personal experience speaking), even when you know you can breathe through it and that everything will be alright.

    • Thanks for the support.

      Thanks for the support.

      I completely agree. I’m not crazy about the aftermath of those episodes, either. Despite my positive feeling about the outcome, I was thoroughly out of sorts all through the following day. My husband’s been having more sleeping troubles, too, since this accident. We’re even more out of whack than usual. πŸ™‚

      You know better than most the value of a decent night’s sleep. BTW, I’m still trying to get caught up on your blog. Any progress in that area?

      • My appointment was canceled because of the weather; I’ve got to reschedule it Monday. I’m hoping they’ll at least give me some info over the phone. The suspense is killing me. Will I get a CPAP? Will I get oxygen? Or will I be left as is, fractured sleep? sigh. Fingers crossed that there will be some progress on that front.

      • I’ll keep thinking good thoughts for you. Hope things get better for you soon.

  5. Hi Diane,
    You taught Simon a very valuable lesson by teaching him he can choose positive/calming thoughts of distressing ones. You are also helping him a great deal with the breathing techniques. I am in my twenties and still working on this, since I only learned about this about a year ago. Good for you for being so understanding even in the middle of the night.

    • Thanks, Astrid.

      I really appreciate your kind and thoughtful comment.

      I hope the techniques you’re working with are helpful to you. I’m 42 – at least for a couple more weeks – and this is still something I have to keep working at all the time. It seems like helping my son learn how to speak and play games appropriately as a younger child was simple compared to helping him navigate all the extra mental and emotional challenges that come with being an Aspie adolescent. Having support for my own thoughts and feelings helps me to be better for my family, so I’m really very grateful for the encouragement.

  6. Diane,
    You really did a great job! πŸ™‚

  7. Hello Diane,
    I just love Dr Who, I am totally hooked.
    My little *CAL loves it too.
    She was a little freaked by the episodes with the Ood in but they were kind of freaky wasn’t they?!
    She hid her face behind a cushion.
    I remember doing that as a kid too and hiding behind the sofa when the Daleks came on.
    Love and hugs.
    Lisa. xx πŸ™‚

    • Hi, Lisa.

      I am completely fixated on Dr. Who at the moment. I have DVDs out of my local library, and we get episodes on BBC America, too, so I always have plenty to watch. I just watched an episode yesterday with a little girl in a library called CAL – any relation? πŸ™‚ It’s weird which creatures on Dr. Who bother me and which don’t. The Dalek voices grate on me, but visually they are easier for me to take than a lot of other things on the show. (I wonder what it’s like to make up creepy creatures as a job.)

      My husband recently watched the Blink episode with the Weeping Angels with me. He said he found them very creepy, and not that much bothers him . πŸ™‚ I was completely surprised that the Ood episodes didn’t give my seven-year-old nightmares. He’s usually so sensitive and even has to leave the room during some kids’ movies, but for some reason what he saw of the Ood didn’t phase him. It’s hard to tell what another person will find upsetting- we’re all so unique.

      It’s nice to share another thing in common.



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