At this time of life I seldom play the “if only” game. However, there is one thing I dearly wish could have been different. Knowing about my own autism would have made understanding what was going on in my oldest son’s life so much easier. Instead, I thought he was just an odd version of average – much like myself. But, as we all know, the past is over and done with.
My asperger son struggles with social phobia (the full-blown kind). Not until puberty did we notice anything untoward. Slowly the monster inserted itself into his mind until panic-attacks were a daily event. We (my son, husband and myself) believe that puberty must have been the triggering factor.
Social anxiety seems to be a common problem for teenagers. According to US statistics 13 years is a starting age for social anxiety for many. On Health Center I found a description that puts into words what I observed in the early stages of my sons’ condition:
Mike, 15, has always seemed like a loner. At school he sits by himself in the lunchroom, and he has no friends, although no one particularly dislikes him. He never initiates conversations with his fellow students, and when someone tries to initiate a conversation with him he looks at the floor and speaks very quietly. He always seems to be on the outside looking in with the kids in his class. One night recently when he needed to call a fellow student to work on a group assignment, his mother noticed that he agonized over making the call for hours and seemed extremely anxious at the thought of it. He often gets stomachaches and extremely sweaty when called to the blackboard or asked to read in class. His parents have always just thought that he was shy, but they are beginning to wonder if something else might be going on.
We were those parents, until reality showed us that matters were much more serious than shyness. “Mike’s” level of anxiety was my level of anxiety back in my teens. At this level, the person suffering from social anxiety will not always need outside intervention. Perhaps my autism helped me overcome my struggles by its tendency to help me focus on matters I am really interested in. I was extremely interested in winning over my fears.
Life brought too much chaos into my son’s life over too short a time-span. Death of a loved one and the severe illness of another brought his ability to deal with life and anxiety to a stop. This was a dark, dark time for him. He had periods when taking his own life was extremely tempting. What kept him from actually following through was his fear of the potential pain around death and his desire to do interesting things again. As his mother, I would have understood if he actually did kill himself, but I am incredibly thankful that he did not.
What finally enabled my son to see past his social phobia had to do with two factors. The most important one was being diagnosed with aspergers. He now understood himself better. Hell, I understood myself better. Both of us realized that we were just regular Aspergers. The other thing that helped him was the apparatus that came to life with his diagnosis. The System also realized that there was more to him than a stubborn disorder keeping him down. This, they could work with.
And work we have. There are days like today, when he is not able to attend school. Then there are others when he does. One step forward sometimes leads to falling ten steps back, but he manages to improve ever so slowly. Being an asperger is a teeny problem compared to struggling with Social phobia. As always we take things one day at a time and accept that we and life is what it is.