Over the last couple of years we have started to realize that Kellen experiences anxiety. We don't know if it is here to stay or just passing through. We don't know how, when or why it started, but gradually anxiety has been interfering with Kellen's life and as a result, our family life.
When Kellen is feeling stressed he reacts in a myriad of ways. He can get really obsessive-compulsive with his actions and behaviors, he can be very loud or talk very fast and unintelligibly, he can act impulsively, he will tense up all of his muscles, and if worse comes to worse, he will shut down entirely. When he shuts down he will not try to communicate and he won't be able to move. Because of some of these behaviors, we've had some professionals wondering if Kellen might have autism. I don't know whether he does or doesn't, but I do know that I'm not really interested in getting him another "label" right now.
Kellen can get very anxious days after watching a scary movie trailer or a scary movie. He can become anxious days after hearing a loud, unexpected noise (fire alarm, glass breaking, air horn). Since there is such a delay between the event and Kellen's stress, sometimes it is hard to figure out the connection. Also, airports, bus travel, and other encounters with public transportation make him very nervous.
We've learned that Kellen needs a support person, point person, or "go-to" person during high stress times. We let him choose who it will be, and it can only be one person. It doesn't work if both his dad and I are trying to play this role at the same time. His dad calls this person Kellen's "pony". Just like at the race track when the nervous and overexcited thoroughbreds have a lead pony escort them to the starting gate in order to keep them calm, so Kellen needs one of us to provide this support. Sometimes it helps if he can hold onto our arm or hold our hand. What is interesting to me is that if I am holding his hand and a loud, unexpected noise happens, sometimes he won't even react negatively. We've also learned to talk to him about what to expect beforehand, and if an unexpected, loud noise happens, we tell him what the noise was and that it is alright.
We looked long and hard at his school and classroom placement and what supports he needed at school. We had a consultant observe him at school and talk to his teachers. Together we decided to move him from general ed to self-contained classroom for 8th grade. During his 9th grade year we drove him to and from school instead of expecting him to ride the school bus. We were able to check in with his teacher before school when we dropped him off and after school when we picked him up.
After working on all of the above, we eventually began a trial of Zoloft last June. It seems to be helping Kellen quite a bit. He is not nearly so anxious, the obsessive-compulsive behavior is all but gone and he is able to transition and cooperate. Not to mention his mood has improved to the point where I can no longer describe him as Grumpy.