Autism and anxiety often overlap in our children. This is our experience.
“It’s probably time to think about a prescription for something to help ease his anxiety,” the doctor said carefully. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “If he is being buried in overwhelming anxiety attacks, he won’t be able to learn what he needs to learn to help his body function.”
Part of me was relieved. Most of me was ashamed.
I am committed to being as open and honest as possible here about the reality of our lives. It’s what I want to know from other moms – what’s worked and what hasn’t. If we are not going to deal in truth here, I would rather not write at all.
That being said, I have totally avoided this topic…until now.
Choosing to put your child on medication that affects their brain function is a deeply personal, painful decision. It is also one that is often met with judgment and criticism, even from other mommas – especially from other mommas – who are dealing with a similar diagnosis.
But I think it would be wrong for me to share all the success we have had this year with occupational therapy and all the progress we have made in our home, without also including this one, super sensitive, intensely personal fact –
My son takes anti-anxiety medication. Every day.
The first time medication came up, it was before we even had his autism diagnosis. A therapist was discussing all of the meltdowns we were having, and trying to give us meditative techniques to use to help calm him down. When I asked her how we could even start these techniques when, once a meltdown started, it felt like we couldn’t reach him it all, she responded bluntly.
“If all you want to do is medicate him, there are plenty of doctors who will drug him up. I am trying to help you really help him.”
So you know, no judgment.
I wasn’t even asking about meds at the time, but it didn’t matter. I felt the burning sting of shame associated with medicating my child – the message was loud and clear. Good moms work harder to help their kids. Bad moms just take the easy way out and medicate them.
About six months later – about 400 meltdowns and broken glass and bruises and bite marks and not leaving the house for days and cleaning up carpet after carpet and his head banging against the wall for hours upon hours later – the developmental pediatrician was the one who brought it up.
“It’s probably time to think about a prescription for something to help ease his anxiety,” the doctor said carefully. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “If he is being buried in overwhelming anxiety attacks, he won’t be able to learn what he needs to learn to help his body function. It’s not uncommon for a child with autism to experience anxiety”
She said, “We will start off very, very slowly. The amount of his prescription will be a tiny fraction of the full dose.”
“There is no way to find out if this will help him if we don’t try,” she said.
“At this point, ” I sighed, “what do we have to lose?”
Making The Decision To Medicate
It took a few months and eventually changing from one medication to another, to see any results. (In fact, how we finally got him to even take the meds with all of his taste and texture sensory issues is a whole blog post of its own.) But when we did, it was amazing.
He had conversations with me.
He actually enjoyed time with us.
Friends of mine had asked me several months before the diagnosis what the hardest part was. They were so sweet, and they wanted to know how to help.
Through tears, I barely choked out, “I feel like I lost my son. He’s gone and I can’t get him back.”
It was the most honest I’d been about the heartbreak of dealing with the meltdowns, day in and day out.
When the meds began working, they brought him back.
The doctor was right. Anxiety attack after anxiety attack, every single day, was getting in the way of helping him with all the other things he was dealing with. Soon after the anxiety eased, he began being able to communicate a bit better about how his body felt and what he needed to self-sooth. He started actively engaging in occupational therapy, and made tremendous strides in learning to manage his body and it’s sensitivities.
He started to be able to be a kid again.
Your child is not my child. You may have a very different set of needs and a different set of symptoms. Medication may never be the answer for your child.
The thing about brain chemistry is that everyone’s is different and uniquely their own.
Autism and Anxiety
I am not sharing this to encourage the use of medication in eleven-year-olds. I am not sharing this to celebrate it as the end all be all in symptom management.
The reality is that autism and anxiety often occur together. I am sharing this because you might be considering medication for your child and feeling ashamed, judged, and less than.
You will get none of that here.
We do the best we can, in often horrible circumstances, for our children.
Sometimes, that means medicating them.
Either way, you’re the one I trust to make the best decision.
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