Summer is coming to end. For some, it’s already ended. New year, new chapter. This can be a very exciting time for many, but for some, a new year presents all the unknowns, which can cause anxiety for not just the child, but the parent as well.
Our son, who is autistic, will be starting first grade this year. I am confident school is where he needs to be. Our summer has had its really good moments, but it’s also been extremely trying. Summer meant change in routine and in schedule, which for a child on the spectrum, is extremely difficult.
Our son would much rather be at home, by himself almost every day. He would rather get lost in his world of books and the few things that interest him than go play with friends outside. Getting out the door has been a true battle. Not having school and that constant routine and socialization that he so desperately needs, hasn’t done him any favors. I’m thankful for school for many reasons, but forcing him to step outside his comfort zone is probably one of the things I’m thankful for the most.
But, in that same breath, it also brings me a lot of anxiety. Like A LOT. Not to be negative, but I know that a change in classrooms, teachers, schedules and expectations could potentially lead to regression for a child on the spectrum. Between sensory struggles, processing delays, and anxiety, all of the change can bring out a different side of my child that is just hard.
I am doing all that I can as a parent to try to prepare him between discussions, therapies, one on one tours, pictures, etc., but at the end of the day, almost all of it is out of my control. I can do everything I possibly can do, but things can still not go well. How do I prepare for that? What’s the line between not living in a state of negativity versus just trying to prepare yourself? Also, how do we throw away the continuous mom guilt?
Between doing too much or not enough, we can drive ourselves crazy with these thoughts, which then lead to guilt. I don’t think these struggles are just for the autistic parent, I think a lot of parents have these thoughts. It’s scary and change is hard regardless of a diagnosis. The added layers are certainly there, but at the end of the day we all want the same thing for our children and that is to thrive.
So how do we navigate all of these feelings?
How do we hope for the best without getting our hopes too high? How do we not let anxiety rule what could happen?
I’m slowly learning it’s a shift in perspective…
When I addressed my concerns of regression in my child with the upcoming school year to our psychologist he said, “You could look at it as regression, or you could look at it as him just trying to work through and navigate all the new.”
By that he meant, yes negative behaviors may come up, struggles may arise, but that’s only because so much new is being thrown at him. New is hard and change is hard. Especially for an autistic child. But, at least he’s there trying to work through it and eventually, he’ll come out on the other side. He always does even if it requires some extra help and assistance.
That shift of perspective helped me relax a bit. It helped me look at it from a more positive standpoint and helped me have a bit more sensitivity.
So then, I also addressed my concerns with my therapist. Not so much from the standpoint of what my child faces, but how much anxiety it causes ME. I’ll make myself sick with worry over my son and I don’t know how to shut it off. I told my therapist I know I’ll be watching my phone all the time that first week, especially worrying if he’s doing okay or if I need to pick him up early.
So my therapist told me I needed to make a list of everything I’m looking forward to doing once school is back in session. He also told me to make my list without guilt.
Right, okay. But I did it. I made my list. I’ll be honest, it was hard because guilt weighs heavy. When your child requires so much, there isn’t much left to give anywhere else. And we as mothers, continue to put ourselves on the backburner. But this list did really help. I keep trying to think about it when anxiety creeps in. My list wasn’t anything grand, but they were things for me. And I do look forward to that. And, I shouldn’t feel guilty about that.
If you’re a mama to a child with special needs, I hope some shifts in perspective will help you as you begin a new school year. I hope you find where those shifts need to happen and strive to implement them while leaving guilt at the door. It will not only help you as an individual, but it will help you as a parent, as a wife, as a friend.
Don’t let anxiety, worry and fear take root. Work to change your thought process. While the situation may not be any different, it certainly can feel that way if your mindset is. I’m cheering you on as you begin a new school year! It’s going to be a good one!