Thursday, March 1, 2012

School Phobia

"What do you get when you cross a smurf and a cow?"

I can't take credit for this joke. I swiped it from a friend's facebook page. In fact, these days I'm armed with quite a number of jokes that I did not create and readily admit to grabbing for my own personal gain.

On this particular day, I was staring down at the face of our somber 8-year-old, who is currently in the throes of his anxiety disorder. Oh, believe me, the anxiety has been mounting since his return to school from Christmas break. In retrospect, I can say with certainty that over the past couple months, the challenges in this house have tangibly increased, and the mood has shifted.

Suddenly, the family who has laughed its way through adversity has lost its sense of fun.

I leaned down close to his face and whispered very softly, "Blue cheese!"

No response.

I realized how much joy our younger son brings into this house and how his joy is no longer there. I decided that we needed Fun Therapy. And, as with many other situations over the past years of parenting these kids, when I've seen an empty chair, I've just slid myself into it's place. I am now Mom: Fun Therapist.

As far as I know, there is no certification process for Fun Therapists in the country at this time. Perhaps there needs to be. Until then, I'll operate under loose standards and make the most of the situation.

I grabbed his iPad and typed, "What kind of horses go out after dark?"

Luckily, my skills need not transfer to any other child but this little boy, and I think--most of the time--I know him pretty well. At that moment, however, he was breaking my heart. So overcome with fear of his school after a mere week away is he that when he enters, this otherwise Chatty Charlie becomes selectively mute. His emotions are bottled inside, his teary eyes and shaking hands giving away the thoughts in his head.

He stared into his lap. We were sitting in the counselor's office at his school, and that was as far as I'd been able to get him after this school break. I'm lucky he has agreed to come to the building. Forget about going into his classroom.

"?" was the answer he typed on his iPad in response to my question.


"Nightmares, " I typed. "Bwahahahahaha!"

School phobia can be quite common for children with Asperger's or PDD-NOS, particularly when returning to school after breaks. Yet, this is not an issue our household faces with our older son, who craves the routine that school has to offer. I crave the routine also. Routine is good. Everything in its place, and the children off to school learning and channeled properly, right?

Well, for a child with social and academic anxiety, it isn't so easy. I guess once he leaves school for any length of time, it then becomes unfamiliar to him. Stepping back in is as hard as it can be for any child on the first day of the school year. After every school break, to our son, the building feels new. The classroom feels new. The kids feel new, and the work feels new. This child is oozing fear from every pore, and so, I am learning to clear another hurdle placed before me on our journey with Autism.

For now, we make our way into the building each day and discuss what he can handle. We discuss what is not working, and we are sure to be clear about our expectations. I may not have all the answers at this point, but I certainly know that without clear communication, an awful lot of wrong ideas can brew inside the mind of a quiet and fearful little boy.

With our stay complete, we stood and made our way to the door of the school.

"Hey," I said to him once more. "What do you get when you cross elephants with fish?"

He looked up at me quizzingly.

"Swimming trunks. Hahahahahaaaa!" I thought that one was pretty cute, and so did he. We both laughed as we walked into the parking lot. The mood had lifted. I'd like to think it was because of the jokes, but I doubt it.

"I love you, mom," he said.

"I love you always," I replied.

*Most of these jokes and more can be found at


  1. You are a really terrific mom, Amy. Truly.

  2. So many unknowns. If only, if only there was a book with answers and plans and things that always work. But instead, there's you filled with love and fun therapy. I just adore you and your dedication. ♥

    1. I wish I could do more...

      P.S. Any captcha? Was it gone?

    2. GONE...good job. ♥♥♥

  3. What a great mom you are to have figured out fun therapy! Awesome!