Fear can be our best ally and our worst opponent. Fear can tell your brain to run when you see a big, or in my case, small snake. Fear can tell you to duck when you see a baseball or a meteor falling from the sky. And fear can tell you to play dead when you find a creepy clown chilling out in your closet. Even though fear can be a terrible adversary, fear is what lead our ancestors to run to warmer climates during the ice age, to hide from deadly locusts that buzzed through the sky, and to play dead when they happened upon a T-rex while out picking berries. The fear response has kept us scaredy cat humans from becoming extinct time and time again, so a shout out to fear, and my big, fast, cissy ancestors.
I often lump fear and anxiety together, like it's one big emotion, one big word, "fearanxious". However, the big difference between fear and anxiety is that fear is a response to imminent danger, and anxiety, even though it may cause the body to have a response similar to fear, with anxiety, there is no imminent danger. Yeah, trying telling that to my head...and my bladder.
Along with my perceived imminent dangers, and the dangers that are all just made up inside my scary brain, probably the biggest "What if" fear I ever had take up valuable space inside my overtaxed, donate it to science after a rattle snake or a clown kills me brain was, "What if he has autism?". The fear of such a diagnosis lead me to believe that there was imminent danger, danger that did in fact cause a "change in my behavior".
Since the very first day the fear of autism introduced herself to me, my behavior changed. I constantly worried about the negative, the "doesn't", the "can't" and the "won't" that sometimes I missed the "does", the "can" and the "will". I would do anything, hold a live rattlesnake or sell my soul to a demonic clown, if I could just go back and see all the positives I missed while worrying about the negatives.
I'd love to tell you that my fear is gone. That my behavior has gone back to the way it should be and that all I focus on is the positive, but, that would not be AWEnest. My behavior, induced by fear, has changed somewhat, but, there are days I still run away, hide, or play dead. Fortunately, I have this amazingly AWEsome son who does not feel autism is something to fear, that autism is NOT an imminent danger. My son regularly kicks my fear, my worries, and my negatives right back in my scrunched up furrowed brow face and it is....glorious.
Of course the "What if's" followed by the negatives raced through my mind. "What if the change in the routine is too much and he won't participate?" "What if he can't tie his tie or his new shoes are too tight and he refuses to change his clothes?" "What if the day is too long, his sensory system is too taxed and he doesn't want to stay?". All the negatives, all the fear, all the anxiety overshadowed, again, the joy and excitement that Ryan was feeling while I went back home and crawled in my bed and played dead.
As I laid in my bed, letting the fear take over, I thought to myself, "What if it all goes ok?". "What if the schedule helps give him a routine and he can easily make it through the day?" "What if his excitement and pride for being chosen to attend the event is enough and he does tolerate his new shoes and choking tie?" "What if his love of music and his trust in his choral director will supersede the chaos of over 130 new kids in a new school and he loves it all?" That is precisely what happened. Ryan had a wonderful experience while I sat back glowing in the joy of having him prove me and my fear wrong, yet again.
I wish I could say my fear of autism has become extinct along with the dinosaurs or that my anxiety has flown away with the locusts, but, it hasn't. I have, however, gotten better at trying not to allow my fear of autism change my behavior. I have learned that even though I can still run from snakes, and hide from clowns, I can not run away or hide from autism. Just like my unbelievably brave son, I have to hold my ground, stand firm and face autism head on and not let the "won't's", "can't's" and "doesn't's" win.
The joy in "What if's" such as, "What if he does find a perfect career fit and is happy and successful?" or "What if he does meet a girl and can have a healthy relationship and one day get married?" or "What if one day he will know a father's love?" are so much better than the fear induced, negative "What if's?". The "What if?" that matters most though is not about my worries, my dreams, or my joy. The most important "What if" is this, "What if Ryan lives his life as he chooses and is perfectly happy doing so?".
Even if Ryan decides to become a circus clown, this mother will find joy in his happiness, however, he will not be able to wear the clown face, nose or the hair at the holiday dinner table. Perhaps once the future arrives, I can finally put my fear to rest. As long as Ryan becomes a clown who can perform lobotomies.