My 5 year old son has Asperger’s Syndrome. I began to suspect that his quirks were more than just quirks about a year ago and sought an evaluation. After he was seen by many child development specialists, we finally received his official diagnosis in the early summer, though by that point there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that he had Asperger’s. He is now a kindergartener, and he is doing remarkable well. I am very proud of him, and he is reaching out more and more, making friends, and charming all of his teachers.
It would almost be a dream come true were it not for the every morning anxiety, and the stomach ache that goes along with it. Of course, no morning is the same–they are not all hellish. Some mornings he springs out of bed, there are no tears, no tummy ache, and the walk to school is not filled with discussions of how I am to tell his teachers that he is “having a nervous day.” However, if there is one thing that remains a constant for a child with Asperger’s, it is his unpredictability. A “good” morning can turn sour the instant we set foot on the school grounds, or a morning may be “a nervous morning” from the word go, tummy ache, tears, and all. It is tough on him, and it is tough on me. I tend to be a pretty happy person in the morning, but the words “stomach ache” send me crashing.
On the advice of my oldest daughter, who is a school guidance counselor, I trundle him off to school regardless. This has been 99% effective, in that with the exception of one day, he rebounds, and ends up having a good, or even a great day. Unfortunately, we have the 1% failure rate because one day he really was sick, and boy did I feel like a schmuck! This leaves me constantly second guessing myself, and no matter how many great days we pile up, the stomach aches continue.
Anxiety is a common trait in children with Asperger’s, and I have to say that compared to a year ago, he has made tremendous strides, so I really shouldn’t be complaining. But, I am complaining because my son is also gifted. He is one very sharp little cookie in so many ways, so it is confusing and frustrating for everyone when simple concepts like “today is going to be just like yesterday” elude him. He was out sick for a week with a stomach bug—the 1% failure–and it was like starting over again. Last week came on the heels of a 4 day weekend, and the first three days of the week were awful. When I picked him up on the third day, he said, “I need to see the school guidance counselor now. I’d like to discuss my nervous stomach aches with her.” My heart almost melted. It hurts a mother to see a child who worries about things far beyond their years. It also can wear her out.
We build on successes, and there have been a lot of them. The autism specialist tells me that he has all of the skills that she’d expect to have to teach him at his age, plus many more. This helps tremendously, and I have worked hard to give him those skills. He knows how to express what he needs, and he knows who to express his needs to so that he is heard. We use social stories to get through the rough mornings and he “gets” those. For example, when I tell him that we have no stomach aches on the weekends, so I know that his weekday stomach aches are anxiety, he knows what I mean, and this gives him the courage to get dressed and moving, knowing that the tummy ache will soon be gone. I also remind him that if he ever feels sick beyond the norm, I will come right back and get him.
I have six adult kids, none of whom prepared me for parenting a child with Asperger’s syndrome. This little boy teaches me something new every day, and I admire him greatly. He has so much courage, and I praise him about his bravery all of the time. He loves that, and he truly is brave. I pray the morning stomach aches go away for good soon, but if they do not, I am fully prepared to seek appropriate help for both of us. I do not want his anxiety to escalate again. Anxiety and Asperger’s go hand in hand, so while our mornings may be a bit tough right now, I take heart in the fact that, with hope, he is continuing to build coping skills that will not only get him through this time, but will last him a lifetime.
Asperger’s Children and School Phobia