5 ways of quickly calming anxiety in my Angel

When my teen with Angelman gets upset, I go to some tried-and-true solutions

Sabrina L. Johnson avatar

by Sabrina L. Johnson |

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Anxiety is a normal characteristic of Angelman syndrome. Its triggers might include separation from a caregiver, noise, crowds, or a change in routine or environment. When things are going smoothly and my 13-year-old Angel, Juliana, is having good days, it’s easy to forget how easily these factors could spiral her into a meltdown.

But truthfully, it doesn’t take much to change a moment from great to grating. When times like this surface, I use five interventions to calm Juliana. I’m not saying they’ll work for every kiddo with Angelman syndrome, but they certainly restore balance for us.

Intervention 1: Favorites

My first effort is to give Juliana her favorite things. These include her iPad, a beach ball, music, and her Ladybug doll. When we leave home for an outing, I’ll also take her favorite sweet treat, jelly beans. As a matter of fact, her favorite things are always my first line of defense.

Unless I’m moving too quickly to remember, I do my best not to leave the house without one of these items. Because I never know what might alarm Juliana, I try to stay prepared. I ignored this advice when Juliana went to get her first COVID-19 vaccine. Because I was rushing, I forgot some items to help her relax for the appointment. It was a great lesson learned, and when it was time for her booster shot, I was armed with all of her favorites.

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Intervention 2: Distractions

Distraction seems to work well in the middle of a meltdown. I might do an overreaching smile or silly gesture to get her to laugh. The other night was a good example. “Juliana is out of control,” my husband warned me as he got her settled for bedtime. I stood at her doorway and gave her my “I mean business” look.

She immediately stopped screaming, but the tears continued. When I knew she was paying attention, I ducked and dodged between the bedposts and laughed. Juliana giggled too and forgot about yelling. We played this little hide-and-seek game until she stopped crying.

Intervention 3: Calm

Sometimes I forget about the occupational therapy techniques that I learned years ago. Juliana’s therapist taught me how to perform brushing and compression activities. Strong, purposeful hugs fit in this category. These techniques work, but not as quickly as some of the others. If we’re away from home and I don’t have her favorites, a long series of hugs and tugs on her limbs will work in a pinch.

Intervention 4: Repetition

Juliana learns best with repetition, so reinforcing specific strategies work well with her. This week we pulled out her “nice hands” booklet after her teacher reported that she was being handsy and pushy with classmates. All week, my husband read the book with her in the morning and in the afternoon. I let her teacher know we’d be practicing again at home. We soon got a report that her behavior had improved.

Intervention 5: Solitude

When all else fails, it might mean that it’s time for Juliana to spend time in her room. If she’s hit her boiling point and none of the other methods work, a little quiet time will often do the trick. This might mean lounging in her bed or in her room with some soothing music. Thirty minutes is usually enough to get her settled.

Time alone works as a perfect reset. Because her bedroom is one of her favorite places, I’ve added the choice to her talker that she uses to communicate. Sometimes Juliana will even select this option herself. I love that she’s skilled enough to choose a favorite place that she wants to be.

Finding calming solutions for my Angel has been years in the making. The question isn’t if we’ll need these options, but when. No matter what triggers her anxiety or when it occurs, it’s comforting to know I have a few tricks up my sleeves to get her back to being the beautiful, sweet Angel that she is.

Note: Angelman Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Angelman Syndrome News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Angelman syndrome.


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