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At the Corner of Anxiety & Autism

As if being on the spectrum was not enough for my boy to deal with, what with sensory overloads and bridging the gap between what’s in his mind and the world around him, he also has the additional strain of ADHD what with it’s distractibility and unreliability to help him receive and retain information, and, of late, the confusing world of anxiety.

My son is a sweet, kind boy who loves to make people happy. But, lately, his emotions are getting the better of him and he has lost the small amount of ability he has to self regulate those emotions.

We got a puppy, about two and half years ago. Fergie. She is an adorable cockapoo. We got her for our son. We wanted him to have a buddy, a pal, a friend who would be there unconditionally. He liked her but didn’t want to get too close to her for a while. Like, he likes that she’s there, but she can be over THERE, and that’s totally fine. Kind of similar to how he feels about people. It made no difference to us though–this was a relationship he could create on his own terms without anyone feeling badly.

But then, after Fergie got out of our backyard gate one time too many, my son began to worry. A LOT. Any time anyone went for the door, he would panic. He would try to block the pup from getting out, but in the process he would trip, or cause someone else (like the person trying to leave or enter the house) to get caught up in his steps. He would yell. We would yell. His heart would race. He would slam the door before the person was in or out. He would step on the pup. It was a mess.

He would ask to check the gate to the backyard relentlessly. He would not let the dog go out without checking the gate first. No matter what we were doing. No matter what he was doing. This was the most important thing to him.

About six months ago, we started seeing a psychologist who specializes in treating kids on the spectrum. Not because of the dog stuff specifically, but there were a number of things mounting, including the development of self-awareness by our son, that he is different. Up until now, he had never really asked or talked about his autism. With self-awareness though, comes sadness. A sort of grief. The moment you realize that you are different, is not as easy one. There are questions and there are concerns. There is self-loathing. There is anger and frustration. There is resentment. It was more than I could help him with. I am only a mom. I am a mom whose experience in the world before children was very far away from the mind of autism.

Fortunately, Jackson and this doctor connected right away. But the anxiety was not subsiding. It was as if our son felt completely justified in his thoughts and feelings.

We had seen an Integrative Pediatrician who had put our kiddo on some strong supplements, including B-12, all of which were to help with anxiety and attention and focus but, instead, it ramped him up and the neuroses about the dog, catapulted! It was chronic. Every five minutes he would ask where the dog was. If he heard anyone opening the back door, he would come running to check that the gate was closed. We tried to get him to calm down, but he couldn’t. He really just couldn’t. It frustrated us, his parents, but that didn’t help anything at all. It made it worse. Now we were all heightened, with hearts racing and nerves shot.

So, what do we do? How do we deal? How do we help him????

For starters, we cut back on the supplements. It helped, but it didn’t make things disappear.

We continued to seek the guidance of our professional. We come up with some ideas on our own: he can check the gate no more than 5 times a day; we allow him to ask us where the dog is as many times as he wants which seems to soothe him. He doesn’t come running and looking for her all the time. He will be reading or playing, or practicing piano or violin in another room and just call out and ask where she is, without interrupting his life. Which is improvement. For all of us.

But then, last night…

We were upstairs, the kids getting ready for bed. My husband was going out. Our son was at the top of the stairs and heard the door and panicked. The dog was right next to me on the landing at the top of the stairs. She perked up when she heard the door open, but didn’t move much. She was not planning on going anywhere, you could tell. But, that didn’t register. Instead, my boy ran to the middle of the staircase and tried to hold her back. My husband is yelling from the front door (which is still open because he’s worried his son is going to fall down the stairs!!!) and I’m yelling from the top of the stairs. We’re both telling him to get off the stairs and he’s yelling back at us “The dog!! The dog!” I’m yelling, “Get off the stairs!”, as I’m trying to pull him off the stairs. I yell at my husband to go because I just want that god damned door closed at that point!!! I get my boy onto the landing. He is crying. He says through his tears, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I just don’t want Fergie to run away.”

Oh, boy.

I give him time to calm down. I speak softly and ask if I can talk to him. He says he wants to say something.

“Go ahead, but then it’s my turn, ok?”


I wait. He’s calming down but still fighting back tears with is mouth tensed and stretched out so that I have a flash of a memory of him crying as a little boy, and my heart breaks. My boy. My baby. How did we get here? This was not the plan!

Then he says…nothing.

He says, “What?”

I say, “You wanted to say something to me first.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry but I just don’t want anything to happen to Fergie.”

“I know, honey. Can I talk now, buddy?”


“Honey, Fergie is our dog but you are my SON. My job is to protect you-”

“But, what if Fergie got away?”

“If Fergie got away…it would be hard but we can get another dog–”


“And we’re not getting another dog because Fergie is safe and sound right here.” [at the sound of her name, she is now smothering him with┬ákisses upon kisses]

I hold his hand and I continue…

“But I can’t replace YOU”, and I put my hand on his heart.

He shook his head and looked up at me with the huge pools of love and hope that are his eyes and smiled.

“I love you, buddy”

“I love you too, mommy but it’s just my autism. Does my sister have autism?”


“How do you know?”

“Because doctors know how to tell.”


“I wish I didn’t have autism. It makes me say things and it makes me be mean.”

My boy is not mean. But my boy does have autism. And he is realizing what that means. It means that he is rigid sometimes and that he is not always aware or sensitive to others feelings. And this is where, I think, it may get hard.

What happens when self-awareness, anxiety, attention deficit, autism AND┬áhormones (yes, hormones, did I mention that we are in the beginning of puberty??) all want to be center stage? Well, I’m not exactly sure but I’m thinking that it’s kind of a molotov cocktail in the making. I’m hoping I’m wrong. I’m hoping that we are getting help and that that help will soften the blow of what’s to come. I’m wishing that my boy gets some peace. I’m praying that my boy can get through the next couple of years unscathed and that when I look in his eyes, I will always see his baby face. All innocent and full of hope and dreams. And that when we emerge out the other side, he is still smiling, and silly and with tons of love in his heart for the world to see.


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