Popcorn and panic attacks

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 17, 2022, 12:20 PM | comments: 0

Diana and Simon went to Epcot on Tuesday, and they scored a virtual queue slot for the new Guardians of The Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind coaster. Even better, the time was later in the day after work, so I could join them (fun fact, only one person in the party has to be in the park to get into the virtual queue). We had already been on the ride once at the time of the passholder previews, and we were pretty excited to get another lap. Diana and I believe this is the best ride at Walt Disney World.

We were in the first staging room before the preshow when Simon started to freak out. That seemed odd since he had been on the ride once and had been talking about it ever since. It was an outright panic with tears. He started to communicate that this mostly had to do with the fear of losing his souvenir Skyliner popcorn bucket, which he bought with his own money a few weeks ago (cheap refills). By the time we got through the preshow and on the ramp down to load, we learned that it absolutely was the concern over losing the bucket that was causing the extreme panic. There was no consoling him. He ended up bailing to the pass-through to the exit while we did the ride.

I imagine that anyone's first response to this is to point out how ridiculous it seems to be so concerned over something relatively unimportant in the grand scope of the universe. But as much as I think that, I can't be the shitty parent that invalidates and ridicules his feelings. Diana was infinitely patient with him in this case, which is good because I wasn't sure what to do. I was looking forward to riding with him, as doing coasters together is one of the few things that he prefers to do with me. This isn't the first time that he hasn't been able to adjust over some seemingly irrational situation.

And of course, observing him causes the realization that I've experienced the same feelings. I remember not wanting to use stickers on things, because if I used them, then I wouldn't have them. I would avoid bringing certain toys on camping trips, deathly afraid of losing them if I did. Even today, I obsessively pat down my pocket to make sure that my phone is still in it. I'm also on the edge of panic when boarding any kind of transportation, bus, plane or boat, extremely anxious to get onboard and I don't even know what possible outcome I'm worried about. So I get where he's at, I just wish he had the coping skills to overcome it.

I'm starting to understand that this is a large part of the journey for an autistic person, developing the ability to cope with the situations that are irrational or deeply uncomfortable. And because it's a spectrum and everyone is so wildly different, everyone will get to different places at different times. And the brain wiring doesn't change. You may be able to cope with that situation, but it doesn't mean you aren't experiencing the situation. This is one of the biggest things for me to come out of my diagnosis, because now I recognize that the cognitive cost of these experiences sometimes leaves me exhausted.

As for Simon, he was very aware of his feelings and understood them, to the extent that he regretted not being able to handle them and ride with us. This awareness seems to be more common every year, and I think that awareness is the first step in developing the coping mechanisms. I'm hopeful that I'm right. It's difficult as a parent to recognize this, compartmentalize it, and react more clinically to it for the sake of helping him grow.


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