When you become a parent, you also take on the role of “The one who knows you best.” The list of likes and dislikes can be long or short depending on the child, but those of us who have children with special needs or sensory issues could probably be better suited to have a few novels printed up to pass along, just for those who ask. It’s true, sometimes I feel like I’m playing a game of “dodge the land mine” for things that may trigger fear or anxiety in you. Please don’t get me wrong, I am more than happy to do this, because I love you the entire world full, but I will admit I tend to avoid certain situations almost to a fault.
We all have fear Addie. Fear is a feeling that is induced by a perceived threat or danger. When we sense fear, or are in presence of such it can ultimately cause a change in behavior responding in ways such as fleeing, hiding, or freezing. Your response is generally screaming and running.
Now I may not have the exact same fears as you (most of which you fear is from an initial auditory fright) or do I have the same reaction of running, I can however sympathize with having fear seem as if it has the upper hand over you.
I used to be terrified of our basement growing up. That’s a fact. My heart would start racing just simply at the thought of having to go down there. The stairs seemingly disappearing into darkness the further down they went. This fear was with me for a very long time, but today it has since dissipated. The thing is I don’t remember how or why I’m no longer afraid? Is there such a thing as growing out of fear? While I haven’t heard much to that theory, most psychologist will say the only way out of fear and anxiety is through. You see Addie, our laundry room was in the basement – there was just no way out of having to go down there. Whether it be taking dirty clothes down, helping with sorting and washing, or bringing clothes up, I had to face this fear daily. Therefore, I guess you could say “through” I went. If this theory is true, then my consistency of facing my fear is then responsible for my lack thereof today.
It’s important to remember Addie that this theory only works with non-life-threatening fear. I’m also frightened by sharks, but I promise you will never find me facing my fear taking a dip with these cold-blooded creatures, adorned with rows of teeth, eyeing me like a tasty treat! Yup, just not gonna happen.
The theory of “through” is the same as the all to important guidance autistic families are given of “Exposure is Key”.
Like previously mentioned I admit, more times than not I lean toward avoidance in situations when it comes to potentially upsetting you. Perhaps it’s my own anxiety that takes over or just how much I ache to see you so very upset when life is already challenging enough. This isn’t fair to you in the slightest, because the exposure will in return help with anxiety challenges, seems counter intuitive me holding you back, doesn’t it?
I can tell you first hand this exposure thing isn’t easy, but living daily captive to the avoidance isn’t exactly much better.
Fact Addie, life is not going to be able to adjust to every single one of your sensory needs. I’ve spent the last few years on your birthday wishing that one day your anxiety and fear would subside, so you too could enjoy all the “traditional” birthday festivities most know and love. Don’t be mistaken, you enjoy your day - especially the cake & ice cream, but we keep it low key to prevent overstimulation.
Feeling the safety in numbers with having both daddy and I at the party, were we ready to give this a shot! OTOD!
First up, balloons and farm animals for a petting zoo/pony ride party! Deep breaths…3, 2, 1 GO!
Luckily for us the zoo came to them, so it was a familiar setting for you. Upon arriving we parked in such a way that the outside balloons were not visible, and the animals were all set up in a vacant area next to the house, somewhat unseen to you.
Arrival – check!
As per your usual routine in visiting The Smith household, you made your way straight to the backyard swings without skipping a beat. It didn’t take long before the first of many times I heard “Wow, she really loves to swing!” from other fellow party going parents. Routine being your thing, you stopped and walked your way over to the porch to head inside, because the playroom was your next usual destination. Your plan was quickly foiled by 3 small balloons decorating a table, now what!? Using your genius thinking, you knew you could always go through the front door to get upstairs! Score! Feeling as if you outsmarted those pesky balloons you ran around to the front of the house, almost instinctively in the opposite direction of all the children and petting zoo extravaganza - which for the record now included an alpaca wearing a cowboy hat and scarf having a stare down with our favorite neighborhood Great Dane puppy, Clementine.
Once you made your way around you quickly took notice to the mailbox balloons and darted in the front door, only to notice the one, yes one, balloon tied to the staircase railing. Noooooooooooooooo how were you going to get up to the playroom? Well, routine is what it is with you and you were bound and determined to get to that playroom! Feeling a little trapped now by these floating balls of air, you took a deep breath, and ran as if the floor was hot lava, whimpering all the way up the stairs, past the balloon, and to the playroom. You made it! Phew! But were you going to come down?
You see Addie, literally just days before at a Halloween party a singular red balloon threw you into fight or flight and I had no choice but to take you home. Unfortunately, your anxiety was so heightened for the remainder of the night that Halloween 2017 wasn’t exactly a success, but more of a we got through it.
Now, back to the staircase balloon battle.
I heard you start to make your way down, you stopped at the landing giving that balloon your best alpaca stare down as you inched your way closer. Much to my surprise you leaned forward to grab the string bringing the usually dreaded object closer to your face. I stood carefully trying not to make a noise, with my mouth hanging wide open I’m sure. It literally felt like I was in a dream – this wasn’t really happening, was it?! You then began to repeatedly pull the balloon closer and bat it away, as if it was a game. Changing your posture and looking more confident you released the balloon and made your way to the back porch. Taking in the opportunity to give those others balloons a whack before heading outside where Mr. Jon was calling you to come see the chicken.
Still in awe of what I had just witnessed with the balloons, I followed you outside toward the animals.
Happily jumping and stimming your way to the side of the house, yelling “a-shicken, a-shicken!” you love chicken, particularly with waffles! You ran over only to find a feathered version of “a-shicken” clucking feverishly around in circles or anywhere that was away from you! I think he could see the hunger in your eyes and the disappointment that he wasn’t on a plate!
You slowly made your way through to each pen. Llamas, alpacas, goats, donkeys greeting each individual animal with a loud “MOO”, as if that was their universal language. Addie, you even sat on the pony! You read that right, ON THE PONY! Now you weren’t about to let him trot you around, but we’ll take it! Holy cow, we’ll take it!
Standing yet a little taller with more confidence and having not started a petting zoo stamped through our neighborhood screaming out of fright, you made your way back to that lonely staircase balloon. This time you were all in, pulling it close and squeezing it repeatedly until it met its demise and finally popped! Shockingly you were completely unphased by the popping and you spent the remainder of the party attempting to pop every single balloon there.
Who had the control now?! Certainly not your fear!
Still feeling like we were in a dream with all this predictable unpredictability, we packed up and headed to the next party!
3, 2, 1 GO! This one was a dance party and with all that you would imagine comes with that! Loud music, shiny streamers, flashing lights, but again in a familiar place…Let’s do this!
Once again, NO ISSUES! You walked in and all was well. You did great, up until we said no to something you thought we should’ve given you and a tantrum erupted. Against my better judgment in trying not to make a bigger scene I gave in, and let’s just say that backfired. Baby girl I’m only human, I don’t always get it right, so home we went to wind down from this very exciting and busy day.
My sweet Addie, I’m SO unbelievably proud of you for facing some of your biggest fears! I guess only time will tell if they’ve officially been conquered, but none the less you proved to be super brave on this day. Having never had a conversation about “exposure” or “moving through fear” with you, you did this all out of gut instinct. Once again proving that sometimes you just need to do life on Addie time. Perhaps wishes really do come true.
Way to go baby girl! I love you!