Fear Has No Place

A formal autism diagnosis brings a wide range of emotions.

On one hand, there’s a sense of relief. You don’t have to wonder anymore. You don’t have to explain your situation by a set of idiosyncrasies. You can call it what it’s formally known as. And maybe best of all, you can put together a solid game plan and get specialized services and care. Getting a formal diagnosis, in my mind, is a positive thing.

But on the other hand, the weight of not knowing what lies ahead can create some pretty uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. For us, and I think I speak for many, fear is probably the most prominent negative feeling. And man, it can be a real crippler. Fear doesn’t just rear its ugly head in one or two areas. It’s multi-faceted, and can get a grip on you in practically every aspect of this autism processing. Fear of the unknown, fear of what others will think, of bullying, of what will happen to your child when you’re gone, of their education, etc. The list is as long as you want it to be.

In all aspects of life (especially with autism), fear can be debilitating. It can negatively sway your decision making, cloud your judgement, make you react inappropriately, etc. – all things we’re trying NOT to do as parents. But it’s the hardest feeling to avoid and the hardest to conquer. So what do we do about it?

First off, don’t get distracted by tomorrow when you have enough to think about today. If there are things you’re struggling to comprehend or overcome, it’s not going to be any easier if you get distracted by the challenges tomorrow will bring. So don’t worry about tomorrow. Focus on what you can do about today. Chances are high that tomorrow’s challenges will be easier if you do today right anyway. So don’t let fear of tomorrow affect today.

Secondly, you have to try to focus on the cool stuff. If your child is pretty young, you might not yet be able to see all the really positive attributes. But as your child grows, they will come into focus. While it’s easy to get caught up in wanting your child to meet all the typical milestones, that might not always be the best plan. Remember, your child is not neurotypical. They won’t fit neatly into your expectations. And that’s perfectly fine. There’s a high likelihood that years later, you will wish you had been paying better attention to what attributes are extraordinary. So don’t let the setbacks and drawbacks distract you. That just gives fear a foothold. Focus on the extraordinary.

Quick example. We thought Max was zoning out and spending too much time on the NFL app on his device. We were concerned that he was just checking out mindlessly rolling through stats. We even thought it was negatively affecting his attitude (since he uncorked on us every time we asked him to take a break). Then one day during a conversation about football, he threw out a stat and corrected everyone in the room. I looked it up. He was right. I asked him how knew it. He said he didn’t know. But curiosity got the best of me, so I began asking him game scores from the previous season. He was able to tell me, in order from start to finish, the entire Seattle Seahawks season, who they played, where they played, and the scores.

He was studying something he was interested in. He was cataloging facts. His brain was working in overdrive. And here we thought he was just turning into a vegetable staring at an app for an hour. Needless to say we let him focus on things like that a little more now.

Thirdly, throw your expectations out the window. Well, wait. Don’t throw out your desire to see growth in your child. But do throw out your idea of how you will get there. When we focus on neurotypical methods for neurodivergent mindsets, it almost always spells trouble. And the first time you see a setback in what and how you think something should happen, fear grabs a hold of you and says it’s going to always be like that. You have to be ready to shift gears with your expectations, not get discouraged, and keep pushing. Otherwise, fear of the future can set in.

Lastly, celebrate small victories. There might be a laundry list of things that are hard. They might severely outweigh the easy. So get stoked about the small victories. If your child doesn’t acknowledge it or care, find someone to get stoked with. Do a dance. Do your best gangster handshake. Whatever. Just celebrate.

So what about those thoughts of tomorrow, anyway? We can’t forget about them. However, when you’re successful at blocking out the fear and do well at focusing on the extraordinary, it’s a lot easier to think about tomorrow. In the calm or quiet moments of the day, you’ll have plenty of time to figure it out. And you’ll have a level head while doing it.

PS. Bonus tip for fighting fear – see this post about staying mentally fit.

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