Emma is not alone in liking her routines. She is most comfortable when she knows she will do something she enjoys or is use to. What separates Emma from the rest of us is that instead of being able to adjust when her routine is disrupted, she is thrown completely off-balance to a degree that often catches even us by surprise.
Last night Emma went through her nighttime routine of getting ready for bed. After her teeth had been brushed she came to find me in the back where I was reading.
“Just five minutes,” she said as she got into our bed. “Just five minutes with Mommy.”
“Hey Em. Okay five minutes, then you’ll go back to your bed,” I agreed.
About ten minutes later I looked up from my book and realized Emma had fallen asleep. There was a moment when I wondered if I should just let her sleep and try to carry her into her bed later, but she’s gotten so big, short of carting her out on a gurney, this is no longer an option.
“Hey Emmy,” I whispered as I put my arm around her. “You have to go to sleep in your own bed.”
She resisted me. “Stay here with Mommy,” she muttered.
“Come on. I’ll take you back to your bed.” I held out my hand and waited for her to get up.
“Go with Mommy into the other room,” she said.
Ever compliant, she allowed me to lead her back to her own bedroom where she got into bed. “Mommy sing a song?”
Having sung her a lullaby I went back to my book, relishing in the fact Emma was back asleep in her own bed without a fuss, something I am still consistently surprised by.
Half an hour later, cries from Emma’s room could be heard. She tearfully offered us her flashlight, a gift from my brother, which glows in the dark. “It’s broken,” she sobbed.
We tried replacing its batteries with no success and finally placated her with promises of repairing it in the morning.
Another half hour went by and then there Emma was, like a spectre, at the foot of our bed. “Mommy come!” she cried.
This went on for about an hour. Emma would tearfully return to her bed, one of us would sit with her for a few minutes, tuck her in, say good night and leave, only to have her reappear ten or fifteen minutes later, crying about something else. It’s like watching a pin ball ricocheting around, from one thing to the next until eventually Richard took her back to her bed and for whatever reason, this time she was able to go back to sleep.
Emma is sensitive to the slightest variation in her routine. It is something we know about her and do our best to accommodate. When she was little we use to mix things up on purpose. We tried to avoid routines with the mistaken idea that if she were not allowed to have any routines, she would learn to adapt to change more easily. But this proved wrong and impossible. Emma would go along with things as chaotic as they might be, but the instant we did something, anything more than a few times, she would become fixated on doing the same, over and over again. In addition the children’s school, our own work requirements, all need a schedule, as do regular bedtime, meals etc.
There are a number of studies being done on the link between autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I don’t know if Emma has a comorbid diagnosis of OCD, but until one witnesses such behavior, it is almost impossible to explain the panic, the sheer terror, disruption causes them.