The other day we had a fly get into the house. For most, this would not be a big deal. Most people would just swat at it or ignore it until it leaves or dies on its own. No, we don’t like them in our house, but for three of us, they aren’t a big deal… until they are.
So, we had a fly buzzing around. Now E, with his entomophobia, was not pleased with this situation. Although he has been working on this phobia with his therapist, using exposure therapy, he went straight into panic mode this time. He begged us to ‘get it,’ frantically pointing to where it was every 30 seconds. Dad grabbed the electric fly swatter that we bought, hoping it would give E a feeing of control and power over the flies. So, while Dad is trying to track this small thing, E is panic stricken and loud which then feeds into the dogs’ excitement and they start going crazy. Needless to say, the whole house was in uproar. Everything stopped until that fly was dead. E got banished to his bedroom to hide and calm down. Dad kills the fly, Ethan comes out of his room, things return to normal… until we had a second fly a few minutes later. Panic sets in again. Dogs go crazy, E and C are yelling, and there is no reasoning with anyone until the fly is gone. Eventually Dad was able to talk to E and explain that it is much harder to catch the fly when everyone is yelling and jumping around towards the fly to point it out. Each time that happened, the fly would move. It’s much more effective to sit still and track the fly with your eyes and tell Dad where it is so that he can slowly stalk it. We got the dogs outside, and E goes to his room again, only to come out later, explaining that he can’t stand not knowing what’s happening. Eventually, Dad traps the fly against a window with the curtain and has E smush it. It was a gross goopy mess on my curtains but a good experience for E in personally defeating something so scary to him.
To us, it was just a small fly. It would buzz around a bit and eventually, after a few days, die (if the dogs didn’t eat it first). To him though, this fly was a huge horrible monster bug that scared him because it was unpredictable.
The next visit to the therapist brought a new strategy. We were advised to purchase a small package of fake rubber flies. Allow E to use these flies to prank other members of the family. Then we in turn prank him and so on until he is more comfortable. We were also to just place random flies around the house – if he finds them, he gets a small reward. This may help with desensitization with incidental exposure to real flies.
So, we purchase the flies online. E is aware of this new plan and agrees with it. The day the flies arrive in the mail, Dad and I are too excited to remember that E was supposed to have control of them at first and we decide to have a bit of fun with him, subtly placing one on the table next to his water bottle. He doesn’t notice right away but, when he does, he jumps, yells, and gets angry at us. We talk it out, he feels better, and we surprise him with another fly at another time. Again, it doesn’t go great, but he seems less mad. It seems that we are on track with this new program. Later that evening, we remember that we were supposed to let E play with the flies first. Oops.
Eventually, this plan involves the use of real flies in a jar to be studied. When that becomes less scary, we’ll release it into a small room like the bathroom, and sit with him while he sits, aware that the fly is in the same room and, eventually, move that idea to the whole house. The idea is to desensitize him to the stress of surprise. Personally, I see this phase taking a long time. I’m not super excited about purposely setting flies loose in my house, but if it helps my son, I’m game.