Summer + Autism = ?
My heart pounds. I’m having trouble breathing. My hands and arms are numb. The room spins.
Am I having a heart attack? No, although I think so at first. No, this is an anxiety attack. They come on suddenly and are vicious. I feel helpless. What is wrong with me?
My panic attacks are not always brought on by something I can see or have even thought about, at least at the top of my mind. I’ve had them driving over a bridge and even during Kung Fu Panda when the fighting got … silly, but with loud noises.
When I sat down to think it through, I realized I have these every May, just before school gets out. Whether I am actively thinking about it or not, some part of my brain is processing: School will let out. My schedule will change. My kids will need me full time again. I am not going to have quiet writing and thinking time. I am going to be so exhausted I can’t think straight. Rachel, my daughter with autism, will not have school! If I don’t entertain her and watch her constantly, the house is going to be destroyed. What am I going to do?
Even as I write this my breathing grows shallow and my fingers ache. The tension builds in my neck.
I know I am not alone. My mother even told me she had the same feelings about summer.
So, what to do?
First, my panic attacks became so severe that I take a medication. Do I like taking it? No. Do I feel better taking it? Mostly. Am I going to stop taking it? Not anytime soon. Do I take it exactly as prescribed? Definitely.
Second, I set a schedule. If you are like me, that sounds as fun as cutting the grass with nail scissors. Schedules, in my opinion, stifle my creativity and spontaneity. (That could be why I am always disorganized…) But I don’t like them. However, a few things can go a long way to making your life more routine.
Our last home had a community pool. If you have access to something like this, use it! Plan to go every day they have it available, at least for a little while. If your child cannot get into the pool by herself, get in with her. The exercise will be beneficial for everyone. I used to hold Rachel in my arms and have eldest hang onto my shoulders while I ran laps in the pool. If you are unable to get into the pool, as I was two summers ago, hire a babysitter. Most pools will let you add a babysitter pool pass for an inconsequential fee.
Check into summer library programs and use them. Just getting out and having a change of scenery will do everyone good. Even if your child, like mine, has special needs, still attend what you can. Don’t worry if your child strips naked and runs screaming through the library lobby—not that I would know anything about that…. You would be surprised at how nice librarians are, especially when you get to know them. Also, bringing them cookies every week helps… They may even help you find a good place to sit or accommodate your child in ways you never expected. Our librarians were always so wonderful to Rachel and myself. I think they appreciated my efforts to socialize her, my honesty with them, and my desire to help Rachel get better. They were wonderful people. And they liked my cakes…
If you belong to a gym, use the membership. The kids can usually play in their childcare area. This wasn’t plausible for me, so I walked with Rachel in the stroller in the cooler evenings.
Spend $10 on a garden sprinkler or slip-n-slide. Keep popsicles in the freezer and set up water play in the front yard. Wave at the neighbors and tell the other kids to get their suits. Be the popsicle/fun summer treat mom in the area. You’d be amazed at how many preteen and teen girls love to help out with cute little kids, especially those with special needs. Plus, it’s a good way to educate the next generation on how to interact with people who have differences. That is how I found some great babysitters at our last house.
If it is too hot outside, go to a local mall. Okay, I think of them as mauls, but some of those facilities let you rent these cool little car push buggies that you can use to walk rounds inside. Take only enough money inside as you will need for some kind of little food treat or bring your own. Then enjoy the a/c.
Have a Funday Monday (or any day). Trade off houses with other parents. Provide water fun and inexpensive treats. Moms can hang out while kids play.
What else do you all suggest? I’m always needing more ideas to pass the time in summer and make it fun.
It’s interesting. Even though I have panic attacks before summer begins, I am always depressed when school starts.
Enjoy your summers, my friends!
And get Tracey’s upcoming book, Be the Mom!