Miss 3 with likely Aspergers - how do you deal with anxiety episodes?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Sasha, Jun 3, 2010.

  1. Sasha

    Sasha Guest

    Good morning (well, it is here in Australia anyway!). We have a sweet 3 year old girl, who our GP suspects of having Aspergers - we are still waiting to see a paediatrician (only 3 weeks to go, thank heavens..).

    We used to have social problems (wouldn't talk outside the house, no eye contact etc). But now the hardest thing to deal with are her unpredictable anxiety episodes. She doesn't like sauce of any kind, and last night I forgot to not make her dinner with sauce. When she saw it on the plate, she had an anxiety episode, sobbing, crying, kicking, screaming.... We try to deal with the anxious issue calmly, but when she kicks people as part of her tantrums, we have to come down hard on this. It is so difficult to separate the 2 - to not punish her for anxiety, but to discourage the violent behaviour that comes with it.

    All the advice I have read online is to talk to the child about anxiety, and do breathing exercises etc. I just don't see how to make this work with a 3 yr old in the middle of an anxiety tantrum?

    I would love to hear how others with small kids deal with this. She hits her baby brother too, and other than keeping them separated I have a lot of trouble knowing how to make this stop....

    My sleep-deprived mind is not up to dealing with all of this some days...

    THanks for the opportunity to just put this in writing,

    Oh, and PS - what does 'difficult child' stand for? I have read it in a lot of the threads here, but am clueless?
  2. nvts

    nvts Active Member

    Hi Sasha! Welcome to our little corner of the world!

    Check out the FAQ/Help forum - difficult child stands for "gift from God" which is what we call the child/children that brought you here. The FAQ forum will help guide you through some of the short terms, and navigation on the board.

    Have you read the Explosive Child by Ross Greene? There's a thread on here that helps adapt it to young children. Some of us have found it to be quite helpful.

    I can sympathize with the sleep deprived brain - it's headedd toward midnight here and I'm ready to crash and burn! I'll hop on in the morning with a clearer head with more info.

    Don't worry - it's a terrific group here and you'll get all the help and support that you need!

    Take care, and check back often!

  3. SRL

    SRL Active Member

    Welcome to our forum--I'm glad that you found us.

    If Asperger's is suspected, then you will want to request both speech/language and occuptional therapy evaluations along with whatever specialist diagnoses for Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Even if you don't see any problems in those areas now, it's strongly recommended at an early age.

    Transistions and anxiety are tough to deal with in little ones. Many children will benefit from a schedule---pictures or written depending on their ages. Here's an example of a PECS (picture) system tool: (This falls under the realm of speech, by the way).

    As for the meals, this is going to sound like a lot of work, but take it from me (a veteran of cereal bowls dumped on the table, carrots thrown across the room, and applesauce hitting the ceiling) that it will be worth it if you can get into the groove of involving her in the choices.

    Use questioning like this:
    Would you like pancakes or waffles from the freezer for breakfast?
    Do you want to eat that waffle frozen or do you want it warmed up?
    Do you want it cut up or whole?
    Do you want it plain or with syrup?

    Always presenting food in seperate dishes (milk plus cereal, noodles plus sauce, crackers plus peanut butter, etc) may save you a lot of headaches. I know it takes extra work, but the preventative steps are so much easier to deal with than the tantrums.
  4. I used to use a birthday candle to get my girl to deep breathe during the anxiety blows. When I saw the anxiety building, I would light a birthday candle and hold it a good distance away and get her to blow it out. This required a deep breath and a mouth blow. At a young age, it was a concept that she got and as she got older, it was a visual that she could draw upon.
  5. Sasha

    Sasha Guest

    Thank so much for the welcome to the forum, and for the advice.

    I am definitely going to be more careful with separating out foods, and involving her in decision making. The hardest part is that there is no consistency - just never know what might set off an episode.

    I like the candle idea too - difficult child loves candles, so getting her to blow one out is a great strategy, for distraction and shifting focus, as well as the deep breathing.

    We just can't wait to see the paediatrician - better to know what you are up against, and get some long-term strategies, than to be just dealing with each hour as it comes. :(
  6. SRL

    SRL Active Member

    Try keeping a log of her episodes to see if any patterns emerge--foods, sleep, clothes issues, new places, exposure to loud sounds or bright lights, etc,
  7. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    Welcome! It sounds like you have your hands full! This forum will give you lots of ideas and support. best of all no one will tell you it is all your fault or judge you!! We truly have walked in your shoes so we won't tell you that you are imagining things or making mountains out of molehills either!!

    I think the candle idea is excellent. Is there an item that your daughter uses to soothe herself? Like a blankie or stuffed animal? One thing that made a big difference to my kids was making sure that they had their "lovey" available at all times. When anxiety hit they were more able to calm themselves if they could have it. My oldest had a little teddy bear that played Teddy bear's Picnic. The sound of the music made an almost instant difference. My daughter always had an item with a very silky ribbon. either the edge of a blanket or ribbon with the texture sewn onto something. She was unable to lie flat to sleep for the first year or so because sinus problems, so she wore out car seat covers often. My mother would make new covers and sew a length of ribbon to them. She would finger that ribbon anytime she was upset. She is now 14 and still has a couple of blankies. They are smaller now but they still help her.

    If you can help her learn to calm herself with an item it may help. Recognizing that she truly is scared and anxious about things like sauces will help you handle her. How do you handle foods you don't like? Often we suggest not fighting battles over food. it can set up a very unhealthy power struggle over food. You don't have to make every meal be just what she wants. If you are making something she cannot stand it will help if you can make a sandwich or something simple for her to eat instead of the other food. It isn't "spoiling" her. It is recognizing that at her age she truly cannot handle certain things and making accommodations for her. Just as if she was color blind you would not expect her to identify the colors she cannot see. Or expect her to get something off a high shelf without climbing up something because she is short. It really is the same sort of thing. Once she is fairly comfortable in the knowledge that she does not have to eat foods she cannot handle then you will likely be able to get her to try tiny amounts of new foods.

    have you asked her what she thinks she could do when she is so upset she wants to kick or hit? Maybe there is something safe she could kick or hit as an alternative. One of those inflatable punching bags might work. As odd as it may sound to ask her about it, it will help her learn how to figure out how to cope. maybe if she thinks hitting a pillow will help you can take a pillow with you wherever you go. they have little half size travel pillows in stores here for just a couple of dollars. Maybe she could pick out a fabric to make a cover out of and it can be her anxiety pillow. When you go out you could just toss it in the car or the stroller for her baby sister. Knowing she has it there could help her stay in control.

    These are just some ideas. I know how hard it is to handle this stuff when you have another little one and get no sleep. Remember that you simply cannot be a good parent if you do not take care of yourself. So maybe you can get someone to watch the kids every week or so and you can go for a walk or meditate or take a bubble bath or whatever. When I used to get overwhelmed and exhausted I would ask my husband to handle things while I took a long bath with a book with NO knocks on the door. When husband was overwhelmed I would either take the kids to the park or do something quiet with them so he could play on the computer for a couple of hours uninterrupted. It made a big difference in how we functioned as a family when we took care of ourselves.

    I hope the pediatrician is able to help.
  8. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Welcome. I've been a bit busy lately, not been able to check this forum as often as I usually do although I'm over in General a lot, t least lurking.

    We've been there with the early autism spectrum assessments and issues - as husband says, autism doesn't just run in our family, it gallops!

    With the food faddishness - we found it was best, at least initially, to give way. If you're still not sure what she likes and how she likes it (because her tastes are still developing) then involving her in the process will help a great deal. For these kids, the world is a confusing, disorganised place and any way they can use to try to make it more predictable is what they often aim for. So they try to control playmates, people around them (including adults - these kids don't discriminate) and every other aspect that they feel they need to control in order to reduce their anxiety.

    This anxiety is often a lot more than just "I'm feeling mildly apprehensive." It can go right up to blind terror and a sense of impending doom. We took difficult child 3 to Port Arthur and even though he didn't know a thing about the place, he was so upset and so anxious, we had to remove him. When we went back next day (to drop off his sister) we couldn't get difficult child 3 past the car park.

    Similarly, on a holiday to New Zealand three yeas ago, difficult child 3 had said he was going to be scared of being in a country that was so highly volcanic. So we visited Rotarua but didn't stay there. The whole day we were in Rotarua, difficult child 3 was complaining of feeling sick, nauseous and had a sense of dread. Now, he's older and we were able to explain to him that it was his anxiety; but he said, "This feels far worse than just anxiety. I really am dying."
    But as we drove away, he began to feel better.

    We do the breathing exercises (the candle idea is a good one). We found counting seconds when breathing in and out helped, also making sure that when he breathed he was breathing from his diaphragm and not lifting his shoulders.

    It is important to validate the child's fears and anxieties. The feelings are genuine. But there isn't necessarily a serious threat to her safety. So you have to walk a tightrope - "I know you are really scared. You're not being silly. But you are safe, because..."

    Logic and reason can help, as far as she can understand. But you need to use baby steps, not force the issue too far, too fast.

    Also, girls are a bit different to boys, when it comes o how autism and Asperger's is expressed. It can make diagnosis a lot more tricky.

    Anyway, welcome to the site from another Aussie.