My AA: Autism and Anxiety
By Linda Davis
Noel walks towards the kitchen, turns, and heads the other way, in the direction of the front door. To the kitchen, then the front door, over and over again. I am seated in the middle of both, trying to read.
“What is it?”
He stops pacing but doesn’t answer.
Noel, who is sixteen and verbal, stops at a window and peers cautiously at the sky.
Like many kids with autism, Noel has an anxiety disorder. I once heard a statistic of what percentage of autistic people have an anxiety disorder but have forgotten it, wanting to believe that it was just a phase for Noel–the result of an extremely bad year where he changed schools, lost his beloved nana and lived through an extremely disruptive home renovation.
You may be thinking we live in Seattle or the East Coast, perhaps, where every time we visit my family, it is raining. In fact, we live in Santa Monica, CA, where rain is rare, especially in the summer months, and thunder, the real culprit (alert the media: autistic child with a compromised sensory system!), is even more unusual. And yet, Noel has placed his anxiety on the weather. If not the weather, it would be something else; of this, I am certain.
He’s still looking at the sky, reading it. If only the sky were a book, he’d be Harvard-bound. I suppose that is what anxiety looks like from the outside: a supreme waste of time. In the last fifteen years (since kids?), I too have developed an anxiety disorder, whenever I fly. If there is turbulence, I grab hold of my tray table and freeze, amazed at the calmness of my fellow passengers laughing at the movie, heartily eating peanuts, sleeping, even.
Back in our living room, I ask Noel to stop the pacing and sit with me. He does so willingly, perhaps hoping I can help him.
His breath is very shallow, mirroring his stricken insides. Even when I ask him to mimic my breath, he cannot do it correctly, a curious inconsistency for my son who is so adept at mimicking – everything from birds to loud people’s laughter – he could have a future as a voice actor. After all, he is an Echolalia scholar.
As the day wears on, Noel eats very little and smiles even less. He obsessively checks his iPad for the latest weather report. I know what you’re thinking: take away his electronics. Tried that, only to learn how prevalent the weather is in daily conversations and a million other different places—the TV in our local pizza shop, the radio of a passing convertible. Worse, although Noel wants to go to bed early, sleep eludes him.
And so, for the first time in many years, aloft my eastern-leaning, organic-loving, naturalist perch, I am considering meds. A stomach ulcer, clearly where this may be heading, cannot be good for his body.
About the Author
Linda Davis’ work has been published in The Literary Review, Gemini Magazine and, forthcoming, in Tattoo Highway. She worked with Antonya Nelson at Bread Loaf and Brad Kessler at Antioch University where she received her MFA. Prior to that, she was story editor at Wildwood Enterprises, Robert Redford’s company, and worked in New York at Harper’s Magazine. She lives in Santa Monica with her husband and three children. As the mother of a 16-year-old boy with autism, she feels as though she has a degree in Autism, as well.