Years later, she still has anxiety about school

Published 10:33 pm Tuesday, September 4, 2018

My adult daughter who has autism was awake before 8 a.m. on Labor Day, an unusual thing for her. Getting to sleep is often an issue and many nights she is awake until the wee hours, which means she isn’t up and going until later in the morning.

To find her sitting in her favorite chair so early told me something was wrong. After rocking for a few minutes, she started pacing back and forth between the living room and my bedroom. On one pass, she grabbed my cell phone.

“What’s she doing?” I asked my husband who was in the bedroom getting ready for work.

“I think she is looking at the date on your phone,” he said.

She brought me the phone wanting me to turn it off. Then she started pacing again. I could hear her talking softly to herself as she walked.

My husband left for work and I walked back into the kitchen. My daughter was again in her chair rocking.

“Are you ready to eat something?” I said.

“Juice,” she answered.

As I poured her glass of juice, she joined me in the kitchen. That is when I finally figured out what was up with her.

She stood in front of the refrigerator looking at the calendar that hangs on the door. We have several calendars in the house because they are kind of her thing. There are two in her room and I see her check them almost everyday.

I handed her a glass of juice. Before she took it, she asked me a question. Well, it was really a two-word statement, but I knew it was a question in her head.

“No school,” she said a hint of anxiety in her voice.

“No, sweetie you don’t have to go to school,” I said. “You never have to go to school again. You are staying here with me.”

That satisfied her for a few minutes. She went back to rocking sipping her juice.

Then it started again.

“No school,” she said as I walked by her. “No Straughn.”

I repeated that she was not going to school ever again. After several times of the same question and my same answer, she settled down and accepted that school wasn’t happening.

We’ve gone through this around Labor Day since she left public school many years ago. Her last years of schooling happened at home, a choice we made for several reasons, her anxiety about going to school being one of them.

I don’t know what caused her not to want to go to school anymore. There were years when she seemed to enjoy it and did not mind being there.

That changed during her last year in school. Whatever happened during that time is apparently so strong and so unpleasant a memory it causes anxiety when this time of year comes around.

Something small that made her uncomfortable might be the reason. I hope it was a small thing since she can’t clearly communicate what happens to her or upsets her. I try not to let my imagination run wild when we go through our question and answer session every fall.

What I understand and what I want to say to everyone who teaches or comes in contact with special needs students is that small things can be big things that just might stay with them forever. When understanding what people want or expect from you is difficult, awareness of that difficulty and patience with the person having that difficulty are a must. If someone does not have awareness and patience, he or she is not the right person to be with special needs students.

I’ll probably never find out why my daughter has to know that she is not returning to a classroom. The cause of her anxiety will remain an unsolved mystery.

All I can do when she questions me about school around Labor Day is reassure her, and myself, that from now on she stays home with me.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.