The conversation of skiing presented itself in a conversation among my son, my daughter, and me. This seemingly harmless conversation about the snow and gliding down powder-packed hills, invoked a sense of anxiety for my son. As I shared with my son that my skiing journey began when I was 4-years young – and that as an adult the slopes created joy and peace for me – my son began to think about the time he went skiing. His mind unwound the memory of being in a ski class with other children, the heavy ski boots holding him firm to the ground, and the mittens that refused to keep his hands warm. He remembered feeling alone and completely terrified by the whiteness that surrounded him – and the ski instructor who didn’t understand his fears.
And, so my son got “stuck” in this memory. And then anxiety filled into the tips of his fingers, stretched across the usual happy face, and cracked his voice. He immediately shifted from a boy who just finished talking about his scooter and playing cops-n-robbers, to a fear-boding boy who was paralyzed by this memory.
When the car stopped, my son ran out of the car, up the stairs and into the bathtub. There he sat with his head in his knees.
“I don’t ever want to go skiing, mom!” cried my son.
“Okay,” I replied.
“I don’t like skiing and I don’t like it when I have to be around lots of humans,” he said.
“Okay,” I said, again. “Thank you for telling me this. We don’t have to go skiing anytime soon.” And then …
“Mom, you didn’t hear me! I don’t want to ski EVER AGAIN. EVER, EVER, EVER!” He yelled with tears shooting from his eyes.
And it was at this point I recognized that talking about this anymore would only heighten his worry. I remember his child psychologist sharing with me that children on the spectrum tend to “get stuck” on memories or feelings. It looks a bit like a downward spiral or kitchen sink drain. The focus, or the drain, isn’t about something positive or strength-based, and it truly does bring you down. The only way to get un-stuck, per say, is to transition the child or the self to a new activity or environment. Sometimes this looks like going outside, turning on a cartoon, reading a favorite book, pulling out a puzzle, or listening to music. The transition doesn’t need to take a long time, it just needs to serve the purpose of moving the child out of the state of stuckness to another state of being (hopefully that involves some giggles).
I took my son’s hand and said, “Come with me, we’re going to do something fun.” We walked outside hopped onto the trampoline. I jumped around on one leg and then fell. “Mom, you need to try it like this,” responded my son to my clumsy jumps. And then we both jumped on one leg until we both fell and laughed out-loud.
And then it happened … the shift … away from the stuckness.