Friday, April 22, 2016

Storm Anxiety

Another topic that has been recurring at presentations as of late has been anxiety and be it parents or teachers there seems to be a deep wondering as to why certain things can cause such a almost and up to including paralysis due to fear. This was my story when I was younger with weather.

When I was young there was no internet and there was no instant ability to see the radar or thunderstorm forecast. Take tis picture to the right; it's from weather.com and is from 2010 but I used it to illustrate what I would look for each day. Once an hour, back when The Weather Channel was just the weather, would have the thunderstorm forecast and if where I lived would be in the red zone I would become a person on the absolute edge of soul tearing fear.

What's the red zone? Why did this map have so much power in my life? I was almost deathly afraid of weather and the power it can have and within the red zone is the potential for severe storms and within severe storms comes tornadoes. During the school year, and if I were in the red zone, I would do everything I could NOT to be in school because had I been in school I would be unaware of how imminent the threat would be and the school didn't have a basement and the rule says be in the basement in a tornado therefore being in school was dangerous in my mind.

Where's the rational thought? Using pure statistics the odds of being hit by a tornado are 1 in 4.5 million! However, that doesn't matter in the mind of myself being on the autism spectrum. Before I continue I must state that, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism" so what applies to me might not apply to the next. Anyway, even though the odds are to the improbable level that doesn't matter because it COULD happen. If something could happen that's all my brain needs to hyper-focus on it and once hyper-focus mode is initiated it's hard to break the thought train which led me to learn more about the subject which further led to more fear. This isn't to say that learning about something is bad, as if I could rationalize it all I'd have been fine, but if it could happen it WOULD happen and as with so many things on the autism spectrum whatever is at any given moment is the ONLY thing that matters.

 With the advent of the internet more maps are viewable and this map is current from weatherunderground and shows what the convective outlook is three days out. Why do I show this? I wonder how I would've handled this info when I was younger, say, nine years of age. I lived in Indy at the time and with this I'd have known there was no chance at storms three days out. But what if I'd have been in the enhanced or moderate area and I knew more than 24 hours out? Would this have amplified the fear, or gave me time to prepare?

Often times it's hard for others to understand our fears because, on paper, it is a valid fear. A strong tornado is a dangerous thing. A snake bite is a dangerous experience. Certain mushrooms can be fatal, and electricity can do some rather shocking things. All those can be dangerous but while most may take the danger as just a way of life a person on the autism spectrum can get hung up on it. It may become the only thing that matters and you, as a teacher of parent, may have to assure and reassure there is no imminent danger. Then, you've got to be prepared for a counterargument as we come up with, "well, what if this..." or, "what if that happens..." It can be a never ending circular conversation and again, unless you've experienced this type of anxiety it'd be hard for you to understand it.

Myself, my fear of storms have ebbed over the years. The red zone no longer dictates whether or not I'm going to leave the house on a day. Fears though could be anything, and could be at any age, and as I mentioned if it is there, and it could happen, it will be the only thing that matters. If using pure logic the danger is real, but using probabilities the chance is slim and I was told that many times but that didn't matter; it quite simply didn't matter.

If you're a parent or teacher reading this I know it must be tiring hearing the same worries and having to give the same reassurances day in and day out, but I know I needed it. I couldn't simply shove it out, I couldn't simply get over it, and yes time has made it easier, but back 20 years ago my life was ruled by just one map shown once an hour.

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