Today M had a CAMHS appointment. CAMHS for anyone who doesn’t know, stands for Children and Adolescents Mental Health Services. There is a lot of debate about how much use a lot of the professionals involved in this service are, especially to young people with autism, but so far we’ve been rather lucky.
M suffers very badly with anxiety which colours most of her days, and often intrudes on her sleep too. The mental health worker at CAMHS is working with M through play, to try and unpick the worst triggers for this anxiety, and then to help M recognise and deal with it. As you can imagine it’s not a fast process. Even worse is that poor M gets anxious about the appointments and then has trouble winding down afterwards, which I’ve learned to my cost can be problematic when I’m racing back to collect her brother from school.
However, today was also the morning for my once a month visit to the city’s autism centre where they have what they call the Drop In, two hours of meeting up with parents in the same situation, coffee and biscuits, and more often than not a guest speaker. I’ve met some wonderful people there and I really need those two hours.
I can’t physically get from the autism centre to collect M and then to her appointment so I braced myself to tell the school that I would be removing her for the entire day in order for me to have my allotted time to decompress and relax with my friends. M is welcome there – all children are – and it’s quiet and secure (always good to know with a runner). School were on my side and had no issue with this arrangement. How forward thinking is that? An establishment that realises and acknowledges that if the parent falls apart from lack of support that the family will suffer. It’s rare I can tell you.
So, M was delighted at her day off school until I insisted she take a bag of things to occupy her. She resisted, I insisted again. I won. She plugged herself into her ear defenders and sulked for most of the journey.
We arrived, she found a table in the far corner of the room, collected a biscuit, raided the play room area for pencils and paper and settled down. Her bag of toys was emptied and lined up, and she was absolutely beautifully behaved for the whole two hours. There was plenty of space for her to spin, and boy did she spin a lot today, but the great part is no-one there bats an eyelid, it’s just a regular occurrence to see stims of this kind, and M knows it’s an autism centre, so she can be herself. She even made a new friend:-
Contrast this happy picture with her poor little face forty minutes later while she was waiting for the CAMHS appointment – the anxiety was really building by this point:-
When she’s in the room she generally participates but if there are questions she can’t or won’t answer she makes like she’s deaf. It’s amazing just how she can ignore a question so well; I sit there squirming and she has no guilt whatsoever.
After this session I took her to a garden centre which has a superb cafe and treated her to an ice cream followed by a run about outside where there is a huge slide and a swing. She spent half an hour regulating her system by swinging and then was happy to sit in the car on the journey home. I didn’t even try to suggest homework as I felt it might be a flash-point, so she got to watch some TV and then had a shot on the computer; all the treats tonight.
I was lucky not to have to rush home today as someone else could pick up the wee man, and having the school validate my decision to take the whole day was something I really appreciate. It wasn’t an easy decision, choosing to reduce M’s school time even further, but I think I did the right thing for both of us. And if another CAMHS appointment falls on the same day as the Drop In, I will do it again.