Anxiety, here, there and everywhere…

I have a friend who has a lot of experience with autism. She has raised a son with autism and taught elementary aged children with it for many years. She says the one predominant symptom that every single person with autism deals with (regardless of  severity) is anxiety.  Ido Kedar, author of Ido in Autismland says that he met a neurologist who said she thinks autism is a severe form of anxiety disorder which inhibits the ability to respond. I don’t think I would go that far because there is a definite motor impairment that affects James’ ability to respond but I now believe that I have underestimated how much anxiety stalks him and how hard he works to live with it.

I have several recent examples of this struggle. One was last week when we were planning on going to a museum and an IMAX movie.  Typically this is something James would enjoy but he was acting restless and whiny and I could not figure out why. I asked him what was going on and he said he felt anxious about our plans.  I said what part of the plan is getting to you?  He said “all parts of it”.  The thing that is sad is that everything we were planning was very familiar and it was just his Dad and me going with him.  But anxiety is part and parcel with having autism. I think its important to remember and to try and address it with therapy and other strategies.

James wrote about the anxiety he experienced during the dress rehearsal for the end of year school pageant in June.  I actually didn’t see the essay until recently but it struck me as a pretty awful way to feel. It was very sobering to hear what he experienced at the rehearsal. Fortunately after the stress of the dress rehearsal James enjoyed the actual event and it was a watershed evening for him. Here is his essay:

My First Talent Show
I spent the morning worrying and even cried. The tears ran down my cheeks, the screams escaping my mouth, and my hands acting on their own agenda.
This might lead you to believe that the evening ended in disaster, but let me tell you the whole story.
Anxiety plagues my existence. The dark cloud of fear extinguishes all hope. The world judges my every move. I am on display, a mannequin in a window, while rioters fight to break the thin glass. Knock, tap, thunk, smash. The glass shards assault my thin skin, blood trickles down, my emotions raw. Then I actually walk into the rehearsal.
Shannon shepherds me to a chair. I must focus on moving forward. Hands down, calm voice, quieting the voices from the smog. I see Shannon’s smile clearly, the love repels the darkness. Then figures emerge blurred by the doomed fog. Their fog weighs on my body like being immersed in pudding. Then I see a face, hear  a voice, and feel lighter; rays of sun filtering through storm clouds. A friend with strong character. 
The morning drags on. Stress, nerves, and frustration fill the air, drowning me. I vaguely remember walking on stage, but I remember the lights. They burned holes in my eyes, searing pain exploded in my brain, every  sensation overwhelming  my frail system. Then they disappear. Only dark spots remain. 
Later, I remember wanting to stay, but having lost all connection to the room full of people.  All I sensed was fear, stress, and depression, suspended in the thick air. Shannon and Lydia got me to the car and I felt relief flood over me. I was safe. They were safe from me. 
That evening when I walked into the room I felt pride, happiness, and lighter nervousness. I could breathe. The steady flow of kindness held back the creeping nerves and fed the calm trying to grow inside me.
It was glorious. I learned that the anxiety underestimated me. It feared the unknown, but I know who I am: James.
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Receiving Communion

imgresEucharist Painting – Daniel Bonnell

Since the very early days of communication with RPM  it has been apparent that James has a strong faith and one that he relied on a lot for comfort and strength during his years of silence. He asked us over a year ago if he could start to participate in the sacraments of the Catholic church.  This weekend he had the gift of receiving first holy communion! We were so blessed to celebrate this in a small mission church with friends and family. The priest was kind enough to share James’ communion thoughts during the homily and we wanted to share them on our blog as well.

I am so delighted and grateful to be receiving my first communion today and to have my friends and family here to support my journey with God.

I am happy God set me free from silence and saved my life with RPM. Each opportunity to communicate is a gift I don’t take for granted. All of you are so important to me and teach me so much understanding. I really appreciate all you do for me.

All I am is due to my loving family and friends. I am so grateful I met all of my teachers, I could not be writing this without them.

God is so awesome and gracious. I delight to follow Him. All of you show me how.