Help - sudden phobic behaviours - strategies?

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Caitlin
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06 Oct 2010, 9:59 pm

My 7 year old Aspie son returned to school 1 month ago after being homeschooled last year (due to a terrible environment at school). I have invested countless hours in working with the school and even by my rather high standards, they are doing well. However, school is still school. They can't transform it into a quiet, calm space with a 1-1 student teacher ratio. And in that month since returning, my son is regressing RAPIDLY. He went from extremely well regulated, happy, confident and stable to angry, frustrated, mean, confused, overwhelmed, and now phobic. He is terrified of going upstairs by himself (we overcame this fear 8 months ago) and has a new and powerful phobia of people spitting in his mouth when they are talking or eating. This is causing him to suck on his shirt all day to 'protect' his mouth, and worst of all is causing him to turn his back completely to anyone he's talking to - and he cannot sit with us at the dinner table. This is a HUGE leap backwards for him.

Is this common with school stress? Does it gradually ease up over the year? Anyone have any suggestions for how we can overcome these? My instinct is to be firm and require him to face us to overcome his fears, but I also know my instincts are entirely neurotypical, so it's hard to know if I should follow them in this case...


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buryuntime
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06 Oct 2010, 10:22 pm

My school stress never eased up and I did nothing but "regress" in school (unless, of course, I was out of school all together) until I became phobic of school itself, as known as school refusal. I'm also rather certain I wouldn't have all the anxiety disorders and depression I experience now if I hadn't been in school for so long. I think some kids just aren't made for school. School tries to mold everyone into this certain form and some people, even with help, don't ever come close and get squished entirely in the process.



Dilemma
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06 Oct 2010, 11:59 pm

I had a similar experience as buryuntime. I did get better middle of high school though when I finally made some friends.

I wish I had some advice for you, I hope he can settle in soon :( Maybe homeschooling is better for him, or what about part time school?



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07 Oct 2010, 10:10 am

My daughter has these phobias that get worse with prolonged stress. She will have periods she is afraid to go to the bathroom by herself. As fas as your son's issues, it sounds more like OCD-like behavior to me. Is he on any kind of medication? My daughter's OCD tendencies (anxiety provoked) became worse when she was on a SSRI.

I would try to find out what is at the core of the fears such as an incident where spit accidentally went into his mouth or did someone say something like that at school? Or it could have been part of a science discussion? I would talk through the irrational beliefs surrounding the need to protect his mouth.

For my daughter, I found a really good therapist that suggested a lot of intensive "security" assurrances for my daughter. Lots of tight hugs, reassurance that she was ok and that nothing would harm her, reassurance that I had confidence in her abilities, and understanding for her anxious behavior (instead of preventing it or chastising it). Of course, we also ended up leaving the public school so that may have a lot to do with how much better things are now but those are the things we did.



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07 Oct 2010, 11:21 am

My son always gets worse once school starts, even though this year we have a very clear 504 and a teacher who he knows and trusts. It's an awful lot to process, and he just doesn't have the mental resources. (He does have a stuffed uglydoll at school that he is allowed to visit with when needed) During the school year, he develops OCD-like behaviors that I think are really a kind of stim: he can't step on cracks or lines, sometimes things have to be "equal" (touched the same number of times) I say OCD-like because these behaviors often go away on their own, and he doesn't talk about using these rituals to deal with disturbing thoughts; they're more an impulse.

We do get phobias as well: when he was little, he had a fear of bugs in his room which was difficult to deal with because it wasn't impossible. We still have to deal with monsters in the closet/under the bed; he doesn't like the bathroom (fortunately this one isn't strong enough to cause accidents) or our basement. We did have a germ phobia a while back.

Sometimes these phobias can be helped with information: the germ one was helped when I looked up the immune system and showed him how his body is naturally resistant to most germs - it was a tricky one, because we had to find a balance between keeping clean and washing hands and calming his fears.

Sometimes the phobias are resistant to everything we do: I still don't know what to do about the closet monster, but I can't stay in his room forever...I hate the thought of him going to sleep afraid but I don't have a solution (other than his nightlight, sleep animals, relaxation CD and routine.)

Good luck! I look forward to hearing what other people have to say on this one.



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07 Oct 2010, 3:03 pm

This sounds very familiar, and I agree with the above posters that it is OCD-like behaviour. My sons are both currently working with a therapist on some similar things. So my first suggestion would be a good therapist.

Second, I wouldn't simply force your son to stop the behaviors/face his fears all at once. This will just cause his anxiety to skyrocket and things could get much, much worse. I would take it gradually. For example last year my son had a similar fear of people spitting in his food. He would create barricades around himself at mealtimes with large books, and otherwise could not eat with others. We started off by limiting the amount of books, a 2 book barricade instead of 3 and then down to one. Then we limited which meals he could have barricaded and which he would have to try it without. We would choose times of lowest stress to push him a little (such as the weekend), and let him slip back a little or give him a more socially acceptable alternative in times of great stress (such as eating at a separate table when family visited). Eventually he could eat with no barricade, and then gradually forgot his fear.

Third talk about his fears when he is calm. Debunk the false logic of them. Have him journal, draw, play act or whatever to keep acclimatizing to and demystifying the fears.

About school and stress, we find that our sons stress levels are highest near the beginning and end of the school year (beginning because of all the changes and end because they are out of steam). In the middle, if we have the balance right, we get an easier period (notice I said "easier" not easy :wink: ). We had to cut almost all of our sons' extra curricular activities, and certainly nothing scheduled after school other than going home and decompressing. We also stick to the same after school schedule every single school night, which helps keep the stress lower too.



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07 Oct 2010, 3:26 pm

My son has a few phobias (not too severe), but strange to me! He all of a sudden does not like this picture in my dining room that has a bottle of wine on it. He always talks about how he doesn't like the picture. He also has this thing about light fixtures having dead bugs in them LOL! When we visited my mom's house this summer, he was distressed because the light fixture in her bathroom had some dead bugs in it. As soon as it got cleaned out, he was fine! He also is fixated on his bedposts ????? He always talks about his bedposts and when we turn the lights out at night he always walks over and bends down and looks at his bedpost!

I never knew he had these phobias until he recently became more and more verbal. I just try to talk him through it and redirect his thoughts to try and get him off of it.

So far my son's fixations are not that severe or troublesome, but who knows what he will pick up on next!!



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07 Oct 2010, 6:15 pm

sudden regression and sudden phobias is a sign of high stress...you may need to homeschool him until he is older because 11 is a hard age to try something like that with hormone changes and middle schoolers are evil. If you must work or something, you need to transition him into school, not just all at once drop him off, that is too much of a shock and the crowds and people are probably causing mass overstimulation...it is just too much to expect for an AS kid at that age. You are best home schooling him till high school...or about 15, though.


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