At a presentation earlier this week I was asked if I had any irrational fears. I thought about this for a moment, then answered that when I was a child others thought some of my fears were irrational, but for me they were highly legitimate fears.
To answer that question I responded with the way I reacted around bees. I would run away from them at recess and I can recall that in third grade we had many bees. At the sight of a bee I would run away and bees seem to like things that run so let me tell you that I was the most physically fit third grader that spring because I spent the entire time running for my life. One time, however, while looking back at the bee, I ran right into the support of a swing set and clotheslined myself and I do believe I was momentarily knocked out.
Now who is to say that my fear of bees was irrational? I was always told that a sting, "Isn't that bad" and that it is a part of life. I saw it that a sting is painful, pain is bad, therefore bees are to be avoided at all costs. I was still told that the fear was irrational, but I found out earlier this year that my fears were justified.
And this is the problem. When dealing with fears in a child on the spectrum we are very logical and many times our fears are something that is worth being worried about. Many times they aren't irrational, but rather just greater than they should be. When I was in kindergarten I was deeply worried about the threat of nuclear war with Russia. At the time, I'm sure most of my classmates couldn't point to Russia on a map, but I was scared to the core of a nuclear exchange.
In a chapter that I have written for a future book I tackled this subject and stated that the problem, for a person like me, is we are aware of the world too early and can't make sense of it. Because of this the fear, while certainly is something to be concerned about, becomes so large it can't be contained.
Another instance that may have seemed as an irrational fear was when I went through a period where there was nothing more terrifying than a black widow spider. I cringed at it, I had nightmares about them, and I constantly asked questions such as, "If a black widow spider entered the school would we lock the doors and escape out the windows?" Because I heard about how bad the bite is, the spider took on a persona that Godzilla would be proud of. I envisioned an overly aggressive spider that could attack its prey from 100 yards away. One day, several months later, when flipping rocks over at my friend's house there was one of those monsters. It was obvious it was a black widow as the red hourglass mark is something that can't be mistaken. I shuddered back, but the curiosity set it. I crept towards it, looking down upon it, and it didn't have any super powers. It didn't jump at me from a football field away. It's venom didn't come shooting at me. And it didn't survive the stomping of my sever year old self. Aaron 1, black widow 0.
So was the fear of those spiders justified? I'm sure it was, but one thing that I feel is often overlooked is that we can have a very vivid imagination. Some people have said that, "people on the spectrum can't imagine anything" and that is so far from the truth. While I can't pretend or make or something that isn't, I am able to fully play out "what if" scenarios and it is in these that fear arises.
When Missy, my childhood dog, was about three years old I would cry nonstop about the day that she would die. Again, is this irrational fear, or a fear that is justified? My dad always told me that, by worrying about such a thing, I was, "Paying interest on a loan I had not taken out." Nonetheless I still worried about this until the day she did pass on.
Dealing with these fears, as a parent, I'm sure is difficult because we will see these fears in a highly logical way. How does one deal with it exactly? Well, I'm sorry but I don't have that answer. However, for me, all my fears were something that was worth at least being concerned about. To tell me, "don't worry about it" was to minimize my feelings. Being able to think in pictures of HD quality I could see what could happen if event X could happen. So to tell me simply, "don't worry about it" was to argue against being able to see the world if a certain scary event would happen.
Over the years, as I got older, the size of these fears diminished. As I learned the true ways of the world, spiders and Russia were no longer such a big deal. There still is one thing I fret about. I still have dreams, or rather nightmares about it. As hard as I have tried I still play out situations as to what to do if this event were to happen. Call this irrational if you want to, but I fear the prospect of having a tooth knocked out. I mean, can one simply go to a dentist? A hospital? Does one put the tooth on ice, or is it done forever? About once a week I will have a dream of having a tooth fall out and trying to find the solution. And I thought the days of attacking black widow spiders were scary!