Fear of Bees - One's Dad Journey With His Autistic Son's Phobia

Filed under: Opinions, Health & Safety: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Health & Safety: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Health & Safety: Tweens, Education: Tweens, Health & Safety: Teens


Bees are as scared of you as you are of them. Promise. Credit: Paul S, Flickr

Bee afraid, bee very afraid

Researchers at Whatsamatta U recently conducted a study that might interest autistic children and their parents.

First, researchers took 12 laboratory mice and subjected them to bee stings. Then they took another 12 mice to the faculty parking lot -- and ran them over with a '93 Buick LeSabre.

All in all, it turns out, the mice reported that it hurts a lot more to be hit by a Buick than stung by a bee.

My sarcastic tales of fake scientific studies have no effect on my son. My bee-phobic, autistic 13-year-old son will continue to run out into the street when he sees one of these flying monsters.

As a high-functioning autistic lad, a certain amount of irrational anxiety is part of the job description. However, even he should be able to grasp the Bee Vs. Buick paradigm.

Certain life principles, one would hope, are self-evident. For example, bees generally leave you alone if you act indifferent toward them. You have no use for them? "Well then," they buzz indignantly, "to hell with you."

But if you run through their neighborhood screaming and flailing your arms over your head, they are apt to say, "Merciful heavens, comrades! There seems to be a rogue primate among the azaleas. En garde, beast!"

At this point, you will get stung.

I understand my son's fear. I suffer from melissophobia myself. That's the scientific term for a fear of bees ("melissa" being the Greek word for honeybee). I also have a fear of women named Melissa, but that's another story.

I know the source of my son's fear. It's the fear of the unknown. He's never been stung. Neither have I. Neither has my 73-year-old mother. Given that we have no firsthand experience with bee stings, my son knows that we really don't know what it feels like.

A Portland, Or. newspaper buddy of mine, Kendra Hogue, has the same problem with her 15-year-son who also has high-functioning autism. "Carter hates all bugs with a passion usually reserved for ex-spouses, moronic political figures and mimes," said Kendra.

Carter, too, has never been stung. "But that doesn't stop him from screaming and running across the yard like an ungainly Carl Lewis," Kendra said.

Strangely, Carter gets regularly stung by mosquitoes -- the one insect that holds no terror for him, even though he's allergic to them. "The bites swell up to the size of a silver dollar and harden and don't heal for weeks," Kendra said.

To help Kendra, me, and other parents who suffer with kids who do the bee freak-out, Susan Stiffelman, a family therapist and advice columnist at Grandparents.com, offers the following list of solid suggestions for dealing with children and their fear of bees.

• Be caring without fueling the drama. If he sees a bee and panics, stay relaxed and calm. Allow him to run into the house without making a fuss or creating a scene. If you insist that he stay outdoors when he feels such a desperate need to go in, you'll be jeopardizing your authority.

• Wait for a calm moment when the danger has passed to ask him to tell you about the fear, and how he feels when he spots a bee. Ask, "What is it like for you when you see one? What do you think might happen?" When he begins to talk, don't interrupt or try to correct him or her. Just say sympathetic things that will encourage him to continue, like, "That does sound scary." Your empathy can help lessen the intensity of his fear.

• Take him seriously. He will not be receptive to your advice if he feels you're minimizing his fear. But if he feels you've listened and understood, and he's had some time to calm down, he'll listen to your suggestions. Offer to share your ideas for dealing with his fear so he can have lots of fun outdoors with the rest of the family.

• Suggest small, measurable steps you're sure he can handle, to help desensitize him to his fear. For example, start with staying outside for 10 or 20 seconds after he spots a bee. As he's able to stretch the time he stays outside with a bee around, hopefully some of his anxiety will relax.

• Teach him to assign a number to her level of fear - 1 for okay, 10 for terrified. Have him announce what number he's at on the scale while he's outside - first, when he's across the yard from a bee, then, when he's closer. In part, this will make his anxiety, feel more like a game, but more important, being asked to keep thinking and evaluating will turn up the volume on his left brain, helping him remain rational even if there are bees around.

• When things calm down, try doing a project together that will help make bees less terrifying. Check out library books, watch videos, or read information online about bee societies, their amazing dances, or their fascinating communication strategies. Bees may become more interesting when he learns that their wings beat 11,400 times per minute, or that, in his lifetime, a worker bee will produce 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.

What's the buzz on bees at your house?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.