anxiety,  autism,  family,  mental health,  motherhood,  siblings and autism,  teen years

Trying to protect my kids’ sanity

Eleven days of school. We’ve had eleven days of the 2019/2020 school year. It feels as if it’s been an eternity.

J has struggled, struggled oh so much these past eleven days. We have tried, what feels like, a million different strategies to put his mind at peace over the fire drill. Nothing has worked. The anxiety for August’s monthly drill had been building since his first XC meet, (August 24) and last week the anticipation for the end of the calendar month built up so much that he ran out of the school with severe panic Wednesday. I sat with him the morning of the drill Thursday. Friday, after the drill, I thought things would get a million times better (because he usually is for a couple of weeks after the drill until he thinks the next one is coming around). But Friday was just as bad–in fact worse. He has been such an angry, terrified kid. We talked to J’s case manager (who is so incredibly amazing) about changing the fire drill strategy. We had a really awesome strategy in the works to help him deal with different parts of the drill–video recordings of the sounds and actions of the kids around him–trying to help him desensitize the experience. But at this point, Steve and I were exhausted with the whole thing. J has been exhausted for years–since grade 2–about the whole thing.

J at my cousin’s wedding this weekend. I promise next week, I’ll post more about the highlights happening in our life!

When Steve and I sat down to hash it out this last time Labor Day weekend, we went through the facts. J is in grade 11. He’s got one more year of traditional school after this. Is mastering the fire drill at this point in the game? Maybe not. He has experienced other fire alarm experiences in other places: church and Costco. He was startled, but didn’t have anything close to the reaction of a school fire drill. ANYTHING CLOSE. In fact, he was just fine, exited the building like anyone else. This is beyond sensory issues. This is beyond his regular anxiety. Steve had the best word for it: manic. This is manic anxiety. And ever since he experienced that time back in grade 2 where the burnt pizzas set off the fire alarm right next door to him in the gymnasium, he’s been manic about it. I don’t know if we will ever–eliminate that manic reaction to a school fire drill. He was so stressed out over that Labor Day weekend I wasn’t sure how on earth I would convince him to go to school that Tuesday.

After we consulted with his case manager, we’ve decided that J won’t ever be physically in the school for another fire drill. I will take him home early before the drill happens, or bring him to school after it happens. J is beyond thrilled about this. Hopefully this will get him back to just his normal levels of anxiety (which can still be intense, but are also not even close to the fire drill intensity). We can convince him that school is a safe place to be.

And then Tuesday night happened.

Tuesday night I received an automated call from the high school principal that a student had written a school shooting threat on a desk at school. They, along with the Fargo Police Department, had decided after investigation, that the threat was no longer a threat and that they would continue to hold school Wednesday with an increase in police presence.

W’s phone started going crazy. All of her friends and their parents had gotten the same message. Most of her friends were freaked out and had decided that they wouldn’t go to school Wednesday–that their parents had told them that they didn’t want them going to school. This freaked W out. She told me she wanted to look up “how to survive school shooting videos” on Youtube to refresh her memory. She then told me she was too scared to go to school. She kept getting more messages from friends until her Instagram app shut off (we’ve set her phone for limited use throughout the day). Then she got upset over that. Now she wouldn’t know what her friends were talking about. I told her that was probably a good thing, because it was 9:45 and she would never get to sleep worrying over it. I told her that the school believes that it was safe, so it was most likely safe. I told her that her principal knows what he’s doing (we’ve been in the principal’s office many times before) and that he has a system of doing things. But we could talk about it again in the morning. After she was in bed, I started texting other moms about what they were thinking and feeling. Everyone was conflicted.

J was already in bed. He was totally unaware this was happening. And we made sure he never found out. We had just convinced him school was a safe place. He doesn’t know about school shootings. We’re going to keep it that way.

W and my cousin, Jacqueline, at my cousin’s wedding in Edmonton.

The next morning I took W to her orthodontic appointment. We talked about going to school. She decided that she would go, but she wanted me to walk into the school with her (she had her violin that day–she didn’t want the police to think she was carrying a gun into the school). I told her I thought it was a good decision. We had a little talk about avoiding safe things when we’re anxious and how that trains our brain to be even more anxious and reactive to the next time where we’re nervous about something. We actually talked about J and the fire drills. I walked her into the school and prayed she’d be safe. I was pretty sure she would be, but geez, as a parent, I never know for sure if you’re making the right decision over this, and the stakes are pretty high if you’re wrong.

J and W both went to school Wednesday. The parking lot was sparse and so were the numbers of students in their classes. J ended up having the best school day he’s had since the 2019/2020 school year started.

I think about what a stressful world my kids live in, and how legitimate their feelings of safety (or the lack thereof) are. How they affect aspect of their entire day. If you’re anxious or paranoid, you’re an unhappy, terrified person.

I hope I can help my kids learn the skills to help them find their own way through that. It’s not an easy thing to do.

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