Thursday, June 9, 2011

Autism and Fear of Storms

I received a message from Ashley who said: "I'm wondering if you've had the experience of maybe you child becoming overly obsessive about bad weather conditions? With the tornado warnings and every thing recently my son has been really worried about it... thanks for any help you could lend."

The weather is a larger than life and ominous force to a child. If your child is on the spectrum and is sensitive to routine (almost all of them are) then the weather serves as even more of an anxiety. It's hard to feel safe and secure with something a million times your size that you see no routine in. If you think seasonal changes are tough, try having your child obsess over daily weather conditions.

Now add in seasonal conditions like tornadoes and floods. We see their destruction on television all the time. Our kids see that and say "oh no!". They associate the condition globally. What happens in one place, happens everywhere. My son is afraid of floods. For a while, rain water that could fill just the gutter, was enough to incite panic. It still takes some reassurance today when rain starts coming down hard. Now, he studies tornadoes, volcanoes, and other giant weather factors as a source of fascination. It helps that school has supported educational issues on his fears as well as myself.

First, we have to understand that this is a real fear and we shouldn't diminish it or punish it.

Second, we have to understand that resolving this will not happen overnight. It will take some time and repeated application of education and support.

Third, use education. Find age appropriate books about weather that he can look at for himself (yes, or herself). Teach him about weather as it applies to where you live. There are even books on fearing weather as children. I don't have the titles but your local library can help you.

Teach him what to do in bad weather and give him his own weather kit with blanket, flashlight, and radio. Reinforce that he has a family that loves him and will protect him. Show him that safety from weather is done as a family at home or a team effort at school.

If he's old enough, show him how to check the weather. If, not, check it on your internet and show him. Education is the answer. Love, support and education will help your child understand that the weather is something we have to live with, but we understand it and know what to do for safety in bad weather.

Remember, our autistic kids work best with direct simple facts. It also helps to make learning about weather an accomplishment of some kind to boost confidence. Use lots of praise for learning, even if it doesn't seem to affect your child because of their autism.


Laurie said...

Great topic! My son just informed us today that he will not be going (yeah, right) to visit his grandparents in Tennessee. "Isn't that in tornado alley...along with Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Missouri...?", he asked.
Needless to say that the weather channel is his homepage.

Julie said...

Thank you so much! My son has just recently been showing anxiety whenever we have thunder and lightning. Yesterday, he was in tears because of a reasonably small storm. I love the idea of education about the weather. Thanks again!