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Managing the Cycles of Life (or How to Get Past the Panic of Bug Season)

Holler girls


This article was contributed by Katie Holler, Autism Resource Specialist in the Eastern Region.

Life is a continuous cycle. We need only observe this in the world around us to validate this truth. Nature moves from one season to the next. Our moods and feelings cycle as well. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), changes can present a challenge. They may not recognize why and how things change around them. They are often unlikely able to recognize recurring cycles in their lives. This can present a very large challenge in their ability to cope with changes, even if they have experienced the same or similar changes in the past.

I am a mother to five daughters, and four of them are on the autism spectrum. Every year, the arrival of the spring season is marked with severe anxiety and avoidance of leaving our house. The first 6-8 weeks of spring is one of the more stressful times of parenting for my husband and me. As the weather improves, bees, flies, ants, spiders, and other insects awaken from their long winter’s rest and go about their usual life cycle. The arrival of multiple insects flying about and the sound of their buzzing incites pure panic in all of my daughters.

bug keychainEvery year, we brace for springtime and begin to pull out various coping strategies to assist the girls in becoming comfortable with the sights and sounds of the “bugs.” We have pictures of insects on a keychain that we talk about and bring with us wherever we travel. We watch Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life” and “Bee Movie.” We look up information on various bugs and read it to them while they are eating their dinner. We implement all these strategies to assist them gain a feeling of comfort and control with something that appears uncontrollable and scary to them.

After about 6-8 weeks, we are able to walk outside without screaming and swatting uncontrollably. Every year, we anticipate this occurrence and calmly try to reassure them. We even remind them of the previous year and how well they did getting used to the bugs. The girls don’t remember that eventually they will become comfortable with the sounds and unpredictable movement of the bugs. I am prepared for the fact that spring will always be initially a challenge for them. I have come to realize that I should expect their initial fears and work to reassure them.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how their responses influence me and my stress level. In many ways, it is a stressful cycle for me as well. Despite my structured approach and multiple interventions, they struggle year after year. I try to remind myself that this time will pass and that I need to remember that patient understanding is the key to enduring difficult cycles. As a parent, I know that the “bug cycle” every spring will last a limited time. During this difficult time, I try to remember that I need additional support. A support system of friends as well as “me time” has helped me to maintain a positive attitude and a sense of humor.

If your child has a time of year or a regular event that significantly increases their stress level, here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Provide a personalized social story with personalized pictures.
  2. Create a schedule of what to expect, perhaps in a first-then format.
  3. Introduce basic information about the situation or event. Present it at a time when stress is low.
  4. Consult with your child’s doctor for suggestions.
  5. Provide calming techniques. This may include manipulatives, visual distractors or bubbles.

Cycles are a part of life. Some cycles can provide a greater challenge than others. Do not be afraid to seek out professional feedback and personal support during difficult times. Unlike our ASD children, we have the capacity to anticipate certain difficulties and learn from them.

Katie Holler can be reached at 252-756-1316 or kholler@autismsociety-nc.org.


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