By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Helping others and making new friends was the goal of 14-year-old Arlo Bachelor when he embarked on making worry boxes for others who experience anxiety. He also created Westborough Allies for Autism/Anxiety/Youth (WAY), an unofficial group for kids and teens with the purpose of sharing ideas, providing motivation and support and offering the opportunity for group activities and forming friendships.
Arlo, a freshman at Westborough High School, is autistic and has a diagnosis of generalized anxiety including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
His mother Andrea Hojnacki said he has complex needs and his anxiety is extreme. The severity of the anxiety became more apparent during the pandemic and the family continues to navigate how to support him.
School is one source of Arlo’s anxiety.
“School feels like so much for me,” he said. “It’s really hard for me to handle the stress and I can’t stop my brain from worrying all the time.”
Arlo has found comfort in his worry bag – a pouch containing items that bring him comfort. While talking about his own anxiety with his mother, he wanted to share the worry bag idea with other kids who felt anxious.
The worry bag idea turned into creating worry boxes for others. A worry stone handpicked from the ocean, velvet ribbons with loops for sensory stimulation and focus, a silent slinky, a strip of sequins, and a calming card with sensory tape, and a message from WAY is included in each box. The coping cards contain statements such as “I will be OK,” “I am safe,” or “I got this.” Arlo includes a letter introducing himself and explaining the items and how to use them.
With the help of his sister Violet, 10, 20 boxes have been made and hand delivered. The initial feedback from recipients has been positive. Arlo plans to continue his effort and possibly make worry boxes for school counselors to give to students and for teachers who are managing an extraordinary amount of stressors.
“I think that I would like to keep making them for more people, and I hope that other kids will join my club so we can work on them together,” he said. “I want to do more projects and work on more ideas for how to help other people.”
“It is scientifically backed up that doing good things for others help depression and anxiety,” Hojnacki said. “It has been one thing that he has focused on that gives him optimism and hope and also a means to form a group with kids with anxiety and autism.”