Social stories are another great way to help your child understand everyday expectations within social situations.
What Are Social Stories?
Help your child THRIVE at home!
Dealing with Social Anxiety
Almost everyone loves parties, whether it’s a birthday party, Halloween party or anniversary celebration. Parties are full of people, laughter, noise, balloons, kids and everyone is happy. Our family loved parties, up until we realized our son did not.
When Mikey was around 18 months or so we started to notice he didn’t like to be around people very much. Even when grandma came over, well, he’d simply growl at her. He wasn’t very excited to see anyone. If we went anywhere that had a crowd he’d try to escape! He preferred a quiet room where he can be alone.
His second birthday was a real eye-opener. We had people, balloons, cake and ice cream. We sat him at the table, lit the candles and everyone started to sing. Normally most children smile, laugh or sing along. Not Mikey. You could see the anxiety and fear on his face. He began to scream and swing is arms and legs back and forth desperate to escape the room. Of course, many people laughed and thought it was funny. “Oh, he’s just tired,” they said. I knew. I knew something was wrong. My husband was nice enough to bring him upstairs, away from the noise and crowd, and give him a nice long quiet bath.
Seven years has passed since then, but I still remember it vividly. That’s the moment I knew something was different about Mikey. We really couldn’t go to large parties with a lot of people. We didn’t go to carnivals. I even walked out of a theater once with him because he just couldn’t handle it.
I’ve learned a lot over the last few years. In the beginning, we’d try to convince Mikey to go somewhere, try something, join a group of kids who were playing. I realized something. Mikey wasn’t the problem, I was! My son needed help and I needed to learn and adapt to him. When his anxiety raised, so did mine. When he was frustrated, I was too. It wasn’t worth it.
I realized something else, hiding away was not a solution. Mikey will grow up and be an adult one day. He needs to learn how to cope in social situations so I need to help him do that! Over time, my husband and I have learned how to attend social gatherings with less anxiety and for the most part our social engagements are successful. So here are some tips I’ve learned and I’d like to share them with you.
- CHANGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
This is huge! We now know that at any minute Mikey might say “I want to go home.” And guess what, we do! We understand he may not last as long at a party compared to other kids. He may not engage with kids as often and we don’t expect him to. When you change your expectations, you and your child will be much calmer.
- KNOW YOUR LIMITS
I already know my son isn’t too comfortable with certain situations, but I still need to encourage him to try new things. But I have to define how much is too much. This is important. The experience has to be tolerable so the anxiety doesn’t build up for the next time.
- TAKE TURNS
To avoid sensory overload, we allow our son many mini breaks at parties, etc. My husband and I also take turns keeping an eye on Mikey. He’s older now and mainly doesn’t require too much monitoring, but we still take turns checking in on him and asking him questions about how he feels. We definitely monitor his anxiety at social gatherings.
- PARTICPATION IS NOT REQUIRED
If my son is not showing interest in something I’m not going to drag him to it or force him to do something. At birthday parties, we don’t force him to sing “happy birthday”. If he feels like it, then he will. If all the kids are in a bouncy house, but he’s just outside watching, then I let him watch. Trust me, don’t try coaxing your child to do something because all the other kids are doing it. This may make your child uncomfortable, then upset, which then you’ll be upset. I think you’d rather leave a party happy and relax than stressed and upset!
- DON’T HIDE YOUR CHILD
Most people close to me know that Mikey is on the Spectrum, but certain occasions there are new faces. Sometimes those new faces may try to coax Mikey into a conversation or an activity and Mikey may decline or simply walk away. In the past, I may have tried to hide Mikey from unfamiliar faces, but not anymore. If someone is looking at my son curiously, I’ll simply tell them my son is on the Spectrum. If they want to talk more about then I will. This levels the playing field and now they know. Now, I have no problem being open about Mikey’s autism and the harsh truth is I really don’t care what others think of my son! J
- TRAVELING PREPARED
This part is pretty self-explanatory. Always bring something familiar to your child. Favorite plush toy – bring it. Favorite fidget toy – bring it. Favorite snack – bring it. Needs silencing headphones – bring them! You know your child best. Bring something familiar to keep your child calm.
- TALK BEFORE YOU GO
Autistic kids love routine, so if your routine is going to be changed a bit prep them before you go. Talk about it a few days before the event. Tell your child where you’re going, who you will see, what’s happening at the event and what to expect. Talking ahead of time and acting excited about the event will help your child feel calmer.
These strategies seem to work for us. I say “stress less” and just enjoy your child. If you have a strategy that works for you please share!!