Wow what a difference a year makes! Last year our eldest daughter was 6 and whilst showing the expected levels of excitement in December 2011 we knew something was wrong. She would come out of school and break down in floods of tears in the week before Christmas unable to speak for sometimes 30 minutes. She had developed a facial tic which would explode into life as soon as she was in the car and continue for the rest of the night until she slept, if she could sleep.
What we thought was excitement at the forthcoming Christmas holiday was in fact a deep lying anxiety and formed part of a later diagnosed Aspergers condition.
She couldn’t sleep, would have nightmares and would complain that she couldn’t turn her imagination off. How she was able to watch the television or see her food to eat was a minor miracle as at its peak her tic occurred every 3 seconds.
We couldn’t understand why this was happening? My wife, a qualified children’s counsellor researched for hours facial tics and we went to our GP, where of course the tic disappeared for the fifteen minutes we were in the appointment. Research shows this is actually very common. It was dismissed by the GP, the school hadn’t noticed until we pointed it out. Her teacher said that all the children were excited and wound up but that our daughter was not one who coped well with the change in routine as nativity play and rehearsals took place instead of usual lessons. Her behaviour remained perfect – not something you would expect if she was having problems.
Despite involving her in everything and speaking to her and listening to her we couldn’t work out what was happening. We discovered that the tic whilst brought on by anxiety was also brought on by excitement. However to help her we returned the house to normal taking down the tree and decorations on Boxing Day which seemed to help her considerably.
After discretely filming her as evidence to show her GP we were referred to a specialist who recommended a referral to a Psychiatrist. We were horrified, why would our 6 year old need a shrink? What could she be anxious about? We researched everything and agreed to give it a try.
We had a meeting without our daughter to discuss the process and then with her. Our daughter has mild Aspergers with chronic tic syndrome. Gradually over the year we have been able to learn more and cope with our daughter’s condition. A child’s anxiety is different to an adults in many ways and things that stressed her would include positive experiences such as going on holiday or a day out somewhere special.
She is extremely bright and an expert in dinosaurs. At five years of age she told reception class she wanted to be a palaeontologist and could spell it! She loves school, when she’s learning it gives her focus and everything is planned but the whole hustle and bustle of school is something she finds difficult. So when she told my wife in front of the psychiatrist about how she felt at school we were heartbroken, she said ” you know that feeling when you are walking along and somebody jumps out behind you and shouts boo, that’s how I feel all day. I don’t know what people are going to do next.”
But we have learned how to cope and prepare for this. We give information, lots of information about what is happening over the next few days, how long things will take and what will happen if things do not go to plan. The school understand this and are involved in helping with this process.
So Christmas 2012, the preparation started early, the decorations went up much later, our daughter has lead the planning rather than us and we have had no repeat of 2011. Yes the tic happens but is slightly less frequent and mostly only when eating her favourite food, pizza!
I am no expert but the old saying “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is very apt. I don’t want to fail my daughter so the extra time spent preparing and really giving priority to how she will feel about things has made it the best Christmas ever!