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Let’s Explore Transitions: Anxiety about letting go and growing up
The headline theme of this summer’s Earthquake meltdowns were rooted in difficulty with change and transitions. We’re a mixed allistic/autistic family, and our family has a tough time with transitions both big and small.
I started puberty early, and the autistic kiddo is following in those genetic footsteps. He’s freaked out by the surges in hormones. He’s freaked out by the changing physical and social demands of adolescence.
And like the rest of us, he’s freaked out by the impending re-entry into a post-Covid world.
Like many families transitioning out of isolation, we’re starting to host play dates and gathering with family again. [*haha j/k I wrote that sentence two weeks ago and now the delta variant is ruining everything, no more play-dates for us.]
As a family with autistic members, stretching those atrophied social skills has been rough on the kids, and exhausting for me – with plenty of separation anxiety, play-date jealousy, anxiety-based controlling behavior and multi-hour meltdowns.
For those of you experiencing the same, I hope you’re being gracious with yourself and your kids, as this transition back to ‘normal,’ particularly for those of us with social disabilities, is a whole new type of complicated emotional and mental labor.
Whether your family is anxious about big lifestyle changes or starting a new school year, here are some resources that helped us validate and mitigate some of our kids’ anxiety.
- Peep and Egg: I’m Not Hatching (ages 1-5) How fear presents as stubbornness.
- What I Like Most (ages 3-5) Everything we love is transitory and that’s okay.
- Little Tree (ages 2.5+) JUST GO AHEAD AND BUY THIS BOOK. I thought the kids would grow out of this, but we pull it out for comfort at least four times a year for recovery through every transition-based meltdown and emotional for impending changes. I thought they’d grow out of it, but we were able to use it just this week to support a kiddo wrestling with tween hormone surges nervous about entering adolescence.
Discuss with kids:
What’s my baseline approach to transitions and change?
If you or your kiddo has executive functioning disabilities (ex: ADHD, Autistic), you might life in a permanent state of concerted effort. The effort required to switch your attention away from every breeze against your skin, or how to get a glass of water to your face might not auto-pilot like a neurotypical. So if your brain is already working at 98% to deal with existing, it’s no wonder you have big feelings and reactions at the suggestion of yet more mental work.
What big changes are coming up soon? How can my people support me through it?
Example: birthdays, seasons, moving homes, family changes.
Parties, festivals, holiday traditions, weddings, funerals, and change of decor or sensory input are some ways humans process transitions in a healthy way.
In the busy ‘GO WORK NO SLEEP!!!‘ of capitalism, we’re dysfunctional at marking the end of one thing and the beginning of the next. What rituals and little celebrations can we add to our days and years to give us space to process before moving on to the next thing?
What tasks can we post on the wall to delegate some of that mental labor or figuring out what to do after getting out of bed?
What do we appreciate about now that are we afraid of losing during an upcoming transition? What do we gain by letting go?
What season and stage of life are we saying goodbye to? Not acknowledging the losses of transition just makes that loss worse. Focusing on the new benefits without some sort of closure ceremony muddies the joy of what’s coming next.
How can others support my struggles with routine change? What rituals and habits could our family or teacher start to help us with reoccurring transitions?
Example: Mr. Rogers used to change his clothing and sing a familiar welcome song at the beginning of every episode as a visual and auditory ritual to help kids transition from whatever they were doing before – to getting focused on what is about to happen in the show. (We could all afford to watch more Mr. Rogers, he put so much effort into making his show accessible for neurodivergent kids).
Who do I know who has trouble with changes, or has a big change coming up? What is a no-pressure way to ask how I can help them?
Sometimes involving ourselves when someone else is freaking out just adds to the stuff we have to process and makes things worse. So ask during a less stressful time, don’t wait to ask during a meltdown.
Example: “Would you like to talk about how I can help? What does support look like before, during, or after this transition?” Does the friend like to be hugged, or not touched, or do they need an advocate to tell others to keep their distance, or shut off the lights? Would it be helpful to have a glass of water or favorite stuffy ready after a meltdown?
A good way to start is by experiments removing or adding sensory input.
What regular traditions can we practice each day, year, etc. that will help ground us as a family so we can ground ourselves in a sense of stability for when shit hits the fan?
Regular family dinners, daily meditation, annual trips to visit family – this is the stuff that helps kids reorient through unforeseen transitions so they can react proactively instead of scrambling to react.
Additional resources to dig deeper into this topic: