Autism & Anticipation

Why Anticipation Can Make an Autistic Kiddo Go ARGH, and What You Can Do to Help



Man have I been bemoaning my ASD kiddo’s treasure hunting and perception skills recently. Surprises can be an ASD bod’s worst nightmare, but Anticipation, knowing what’s coming, isn’t exactly plain sailing either.


See, Boo, who is as Sensory-Haywire as the average ASD kiddo, has been desperate for a trampoline for years. It calms him and gives him the Sensory Feedback he desperately needs to self-regulate. At long last, this looked possible. And then Human Error happened. At first, the delivery got cocked up. Second, the delivery lorry broke down. Third, they sent only half the trampoline. The fourth, some Bank Holidays got in the way. Fifth, well, you get the picture.


The problem, however, is that Boo used his perception and figured out a trampoline was On The Agenda, somewhere between Stage 1 and 2 when we made space for it in the garden. From that moment, Anticipation Angst set in.


Autistic Anticipation Angst – The Low Down


Autism isn’t too accommodating to changes of plans at the best of times. Add in a hefty dollop of excitement, and Autistic Anticipation Angst takes over. Now, don’t be deceived, this is not the normal kid ‘I’m so excited I’m not going to sleep and drive you all crazy with my enthusiasm’ situation. This is angst on a whole different level.


Autistic Anticipation Angst will mean nothing else gets focused on. So your kid needs a bath – Good Luck at prising them away from the window watching for delivery trucks. It’s time for dinner – Good Luck at Making Them Eat. So it’s time to talk homework – Good Luck at getting them to talk about anything except Estimated Delivery Times. Nothing.Else.Gets.A.Look.In. That tunnel vision and ability to focus,that makes an Asperger’s soul single-minded in pursuit of knowledge, just got placed on something you can’t feed, you have no control over. There is nothing to do but sit it out and wait.


It’ll Make You Crazy

I’m lucky my husband isn’t filing for divorce. The Autistic Anticipation Angst had me begging him (literally) to stand in the pouring rain putting a trampoline together. And being driven crazy with the Angst just as much, he agreed. I couldn’t wait any longer because I couldn’t bear another day of Boo being victim to the Angst, repeatedly checking the decking, checking the trampoline site, checking when, precisely, he would get his first bounce.


Nothing Will Get Done

Despite repeated effort for days, we couldn’t get Boo to do anything else, willingly, apart from checking the door for delivery drivers, checking tracking websites, checking the garden. Homework? Out. Chores? Out. Fun? Out. Nothing else could get done without considerate concerted effort. And the entire time period of Anticipation was punctuated with a million infuriating repetitive questions that I-could-not-answer.


So What to Do?

Well, first off, prevention is better than cure. Living with an ASD kiddo means you have to be a pro at heading things off at the pass. You’re no doubt just brill at predicting a situation better than a real Mystic Meg, but let’s face it, you’re human, and sometimes you’re going to fail. You’re going to slip up. You’re going to find yourself kicking yourself, hard, for sticking a note on your door that starts “Trampoline Delivery People…” So, assuming, you’ve tripped at the first hurdle, what can you do once Autistic Anticipation Angst has set in?


State the Facts Once Only: at the end of the day, it’s our job to enable Boo to cope in the Real World, which is full of disappointments, delayed gratification, and requirements to wait. It doesn’t matter whether you answer the same questions once or a million times, the angst will remain. Therefore, state the facts, then write them down, and then direct Angst Kid to that, each and every time the questions start over. If nothing else it stops you going mad for repeating yourself like a demented chicken on speed.


Accept This is a Battle Not Worth Fighting: as you have to do frequently anyway – remind yourself that your kiddo isn’t doing this on purpose. It’s no fun for them either. So shouting at them, telling them to stop, or punishing them, is only going to be a Superfast Highway to Meltdown. If this is going to pose a problem for the less tolerant, non-ASD understanding people in your kid’s life, and they want to see some concrete Parental Action, then best give them a wide berth for the moment. This is where parenting an ASD kid has to deviate from what you’d do with their NT counterpart – for everyone’s sake.


Be Patient: whilst it might matter, kinda, that the spellings get learned today, it’s not going to happen when the Angst has hit. Accept some things aren’t going to get done for the time being, and Normal Service will resume once the angst has passed.


Distract: mwah ha ha. Yeah, so not an easy one. But you gotta try. Get away from the source of the Angst Fuel: in our trampoline example this meant getting away from the house. For a good few days we roped in extra playdates, meals out, and detours. Whilst hard to get off the ground, for the few hours that they work, the break from the Angst for everyone is invaluable.


De-Brief: Ok, I have no idea if this has any affect whatsoever, but if nothing else it makes me feel like I’m doing something. Whether it’s Autistic Anticipation Angst, a meltdown, a social communication conundrum, or whatever the latest challenge, we debrief with Boo once the situation has passed. We talk about what happened, what went wrong, what could be done differently next time. When the issue has passed he’s more able to communicate about his concerns than in the middle of it, and we try to take these lessons along to the next challenge.


Autistic Anticipation Angst – There’s a Scale

Boo & The Trampoline was a biggie on the Anticipation Angst scale. Inherently he knows he has big issues with sensory processing, even if he can’t explain it. He knew inherently that having the trampoline would help calm him. Help level him. Give him another tool alongside stimming and the treadmill to put him in control, to enable him to cope. So once he knew it was within reach, the angst went ricocheting up to the Out of Control end of the scale.


Not all episodes of Autistic Anticipation Angst are like this. It may be just a few minutes before being allowed to start eating a favourite meal. It may be 15 minutes when a friend is late coming over to play. It may be a few hours waiting till it’s an acceptable time to play in the garden. It may be the entire night of Christmas Eve knowing presents are on the agenda. So even if you’ve come a cropper and are currently in a Big One, it will pass. It won’t always be like this. Promise. And you can envisage this muggins cursing herself over a note on the door and bitching about ‘useless delivery companies’ to make yourself feel better.


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