Back In April, I posted about trying to get help for my young son whose spectrum-type behaviors, as well as SPD, some OCD, and anxiety issues were really making daily life exhausting not only for him but for our family. I was quite discouraged after hearing that the wait list for a leading autism resource center was almost a year out, and I knew we needed help before then. Let down but not about to give up, I finally got ahold of a mental healthcare professional who could diagnose him.
We’ve had 5 months with Dr. B, whom we call our son’s “thought doctor” (and I have told him I have one who helps me, too. Counseling is good for everybody!). I knew it was a good fit when my son did not “stink face” him and warmed up immediately…not his usual reaction to new people. He does connect with safe-feeling adults when he feels comfortable since he finds they listen better than kids to his topics of interest. To him, “safe” people are generally the quiet ones that don’t approach him too quickly or demand a hug or response, etc. (Or ones with “cool hair” like our pastor, who got invited by my son to his 7th birthday party.)
Later on, the compatibility with the psychologist was confirmed when my son didn’t feel like talking and made his usual chicken “buckaw” sound or other nonsense (it’s called echolalia, basically a stimming behavior) and Dr. B was unfazed and even responded to my son’s question or two the same way in a friendly, bonding manner. My son really feels accepted by him and is open to what he has to say.
Dr. B wrote up a paper for his school this year and it has been helpful for his teacher to understand him. It explains why he reacts the way he does, making mention of his generalized anxiety disorder as well as a provisional spectrum diagnosis. My son is really intelligent and for the most part blends in well, but he is quite inflexible. When he hits an emotional road bump, his strong, usually negative emotional responses would not go over well in a strict private school.
So I am thankful for the diagnosis; I don’t have to worry he’ll be misunderstood and labeled a bad kid, and he has the option to go to an area with a trampoline to self-regulate again. (So far our only struggles have been getting him to school due to anxiety, clothing issues, etc., but not at school.)
What Counseling Appointments are Like
My son usually goes to appointments wearing some costume or other; He’s worn his police uniform and hat, army helmet and camo, and batman costume among others. I figure while he’s young enough, why not if it makes him more open to learning new coping skills.
Since he was little, hats of some sort have made him feel more comfortable. (I wonder if it’s because it provides the feeling of an extra barrier between him and the world that barrages his senses). Once when he was two or three my husband and I were sitting in church as the little ones were invited to the front for a kids’ time, and we noticed the bright red fire helmet he had on and looked at each other like, “You didn’t have him leave it at home?” (Survival mode makes life a blur like that, and only when you can sit for a breather do things come into focus. Then, I thought hats were more of a phase.)
In their time together (and usually I’m there with them, and my daughter as well) they goof off with toys Dr. B has in the office and chit chat about whatever my son wants. Then, Dr. B discusses struggles of the week that I wrote on a note, so my son doesn’t shut down if he hears me talking about it. (He struggles in particular with “big emotions”, knowing how to process them without wanting to run away to hide). It’s usually broached like, “Hey, so was anything hard for you this week?” And they go from there. Lots of talk about flexibility, which has been helpful.
Since meeting often, I can tell a big cloud has lifted from over my son. I think it’s because it’s not just me telling my son he’s alright and that mistakes are ok. (He has felt his “brain doesn’t work right” because of different struggles, and has really low self esteem, with has perfectionism tendencies). Dr. B tells us he sees lots of kids who worry a lot or struggle with behavior, etc., and little by little I can see my son relaxing and feeling more confident.
While we have lots more issues to work on, for me as his mom, having weekly or biweekly appointments also helps me to relax when I feel like things are so dysfunctional in our home. It’s hard to watch a movie as a family without him getting upset (angry, disruptive behavior and running away) when he doesn’t know what to expect, or anticipates something bad happening, or can’t deal with the emotion he sees the characters displaying.
With his misophonia and a sister who is VERY loud and sensory seeking, there is lots of fighting and it can drive me nuts. However, Dr. B has reassured me that he thinks I’m way ahead of some because I’ve done some much reading up and implementing of strategies to help him, and my son is still very young.
So right now, the plan of action is stress reduction and management for everybody (which will reduce the anxiety and intensity of reactionary responses). And also I need to talk with insurance about OT for his sensory issues. So yeah, if your child is a “spirited” child who has anxiety, SPD/OCD or is possibly on the spectrum, please do not despair and find someone who can help you both on your journey so you do not feel overwhelmed and alone. Your child is worth whatever the cost to be in a confident mental space, and as a parent and you need that, too! It is increasing the peace in our home, and I pray the same for you.