Tag Archives: autism and sleep

Waking Nic – Autism

Last night Emma woke Nic up – again.

“No Mom, it was really bad.  She woke me up like five times. I swear Mom, FIVE times,” he held up one hand and wiggled all five fingers at me.

“What did you say to her?” I asked, stroking his somewhat greasy hair, while wondering if I should insist he wash it before school, then deciding he would be late for his bus and anyway it wasn’t all that bad.

“I told her she had to leave.”  He leaned against me, and said, “I told her – Emma!  You have to go back to your own room.”

“What did she do?” I asked.

“She went back to her room.  But then she came back. Like at three, then five, then six.”  He looked at me and pretended to fall asleep, collapsing in a heap on my lap.

“Hey Emma!” I called.  “You cannot wake up Nic.  It’s not okay to wake up Nic.”  But if I’m telling the truth, I was just a tiny bit relieved that she woke up Nic and not me.  I rationalized this “bad mother” thought with – He’s young and can handle sleep deprivation much better than I can.   Meanwhile Nic continued to mime sudden unconsciousness by falling on the ground, back on his bed, then into my arms, like some sort of narcoleptic preteen.

“You cannot wake up Nicky!”  Emma parroted, using her stern voice.

“Yeah, Em.  That’s just not cool,” Nic said.

I told Emma that since she woke up her brother, she couldn’t bring her  beloved “string” (a piece of packing tape) out of her bedroom.  She was very upset by this and said, “You cannot wake Nicky.  But listen, if you wake Nicky no string.”  Then she began to cry.

By the time it was time to go down to wait for her school bus, Emma was calm and said, “It’s okay.  Next time you cannot wake Nicky.  Then string can come out of the bedroom.”

I gave her a hug.  “That’s right Em.  It’ll be okay.”

Emma waiting for her bus this morning wearing a “pretty dress”.

Wake Up Calls

Last night Emma came into our bedroom every few hours.  The first time was just after midnight, then again at 2:30AM or thereabout, again sometime after 3:00AM and once more, only I was so tired, I can no longer remember what time it was.  The last time she came in, standing beside the bed and looking at me, we told her she had to go back into her room and that we would come get her when it was time to wake up.  When she left, whispering, “Mommy, Mommy come into the other room,” I stayed awake waiting for her return.  Only she didn’t return.  She went back to her room and managed to fall back asleep, something I was unable to do.

So I’m tired.

And when I’m tired things can look a bit bleak.

I know this about myself.

This post is therefore about countering that exhaustion induced bleakness with a more balanced view of Emma and how far she’s come in the last year.

At this time last year, Emma was still wearing a diaper at night.  She was often awake in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep without one of us, usually me, lying next to her for the remainder of the night.  Or she would come into our bed, forcing Richard to sleep in her twin bed in her bedroom.  The feeling of utter exhaustion I am currently experiencing was commonplace a year ago.

In addition to the nocturnal awakenings, Emma had a habit of sucking on a strand of her hair, returning home with an encrusted lock, which I had to soak in lukewarm water before brushing out.  Emma was unable to shower by herself, brush her teeth, floss or brush her hair and needed reminders to go to the bathroom. Emma showed no interest in most toys and her language was not as complex as it is now.  Her utterances were in the three to five word category and often were difficult to understand.  Her difficulty distinguishing between pronouns such as “you”, “me”, “I”, “him” and “her” was all too apparent.  More often than not she referred to herself in the third person and often referred to others by calling them – “Emma”.

In the last few months, Emma has become enthralled with one of her baby dolls.  Each night for the past week, she comes home, bathes and washes her baby doll’s hair with shampoo, then wraps her in a towel and puts her to bed.  Her pretend play continues to be somewhat literal, in other words she doesn’t pretend to talk for her doll, she isn’t able to “name” her dolls beyond calling them things like:  doll, girl, baby, etc.  But Emma is showing an increased interest in playing with them, taking on the role of “mother” and spends longer periods doing “motherly” things with them.
This is the first year Emma has shown even a remote interest in Christmas and likewise with her birthday.  She has been talking about her birthday and the party we are giving her for over a month now.  Sadly, few children are able to come to her party, as it falls on a three-day weekend and almost everyone is busy or away.  But despite this, we are making sure she and her birthday are celebrated.

Sometimes it takes exhaustion and numerous wake up calls to remind me of just how far Emma has come.

“Do You Think She’s Okay?”

This morning I woke as usual at 6:25AM. Merlin, whose internal clock tells him it’s time for loud purring and affection typically paws at my nose somewhere between 5:00 & 5:30. I have always viewed my nose as “distinctive” however to Merlin it apparently resembles a mouse. By 6:40 I was out of the shower and by 6:45 in the kitchen, which was curiously dark and empty. Richard was in Nic’s room waking him, I could hear their voices speaking softly to one another, Merlin mewed at me, demanding to have a treat and Emma’s bedroom door remained firmly closed.
“Do you think she’s okay?” I asked Richard when he reappeared.
“Has this ever happened before?” Richard asked in answer.
“No.”
“Maybe she wants to spend some down time with Cokie,” Richard said, though he sounded unconvinced.
“You think?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m getting worried.”
“Well what do you think could have happened?” Richard asked.
“I don’t know. She fell out of bed in the middle of the night, knocked herself unconscious or…”
“God, I thought I was the only one who had those kinds of morbid thoughts,” Richard said.
“Think I should go in and look?” I looked over at him. “I don’t want to wake her if she really is just sleeping. Maybe I should give her another ten minutes? Or I could just go in and peek, very quietly. But maybe it’s better to let her sleep…”
Richard, all too familiar with this kind of answer where I am essentially playing both sides of the net, nodded and wandered off.
Nic appeared wearing a short sleeved t-shirt, a shirt he loves and would wear to bed if allowed.
“Nic – it’s not even 40 degrees outside.”
“Yeah, but it’s really hot at school.”
“Please change your shirt.”
Nic returned wearing a long sleeved shirt, the short-sleeved shirt poking out from underneath the bottom. The whole outfit had a kind of disheveled, rumpled chic to it. Definitely not okay for school, however, even though it was “Casual Friday”. “What?” he asked, when he saw the look on my face.
“You’re kidding, right?” I asked him.
As Nic turned to go, muttering under his breath, Emma shot into the study on her scooter.
“Hey! Good morning Em!”
“Good job waiting ‘til it’s light out!” she said.
“You’re not kidding!”
Emma has never slept later than the rest of us, other than a couple of times at her Granma’s house in Colorado and then only after a full week of skiing all day, every day. It has never happened in New York. The wonders do not cease…

On The Right Track

This morning Emma’s scooter could be heard shooshing through the hallway toward our bedroom. “Hi Mommy!” she said as cheerful as ever, despite the fact it was 4:20AM. I groaned inwardly but managed to meet her cheerfulness with a somewhat less convincing, “Hi Em.” I looked over at her, “It’s too early. You have to go back to your bed.”
Without missing a beat she made a u-turn on her scooter and could be heard to say as she retreated, “You have to go back to sleep now. You have to wait til it’s light out. Then you can see Mommy!”
I literally held my breath, waiting for the screams to shatter the early morning quiet. “Do you think this will really work?” I asked Richard who appeared unconscious.
“Yeah,” he muttered, not moving a muscle.
I watched him for a few seconds for any sign of movement, any sign, which could be taken as encouragement for more conversation. When none came I stared at the ceiling marveling at the silence. Was it really possible? Could it be that she had returned to her room and was lying in her own bed quietly waiting for it to be “light out”? It seemed impossible. This was the last thought I had before surrendering to a fitful sleep. Every 20 minutes or so I woke up, listening for the cries, which never came.
At 6:30AM I rose. As I went into Nic’s room to wake him, I peered around the corner into Emma’s room. It was still quite dark so I didn’t trust what I was seeing at first. There she was, sound asleep in her own bed. I was astonished. So much so that I stood there for several seconds. By the time I’d woken Nic, turned on the lights in the kitchen and dining room, Emma shot out of her room on her scooter looking groggy, but pleased with herself. “Now you can see Mommy! Good job waiting til it’s light out,” she said, congratulating herself.
“That was really terrific Em,” I told her. “Not only did you go back to your own bed without crying, you went back to sleep!” I knelt down to give her a hug. She wriggled away from me, but I caught the smile on her face. “I’m proud of you, Em.”
This is the FIRST time Emma has gone back to bed without –
a) insisting one of us accompany her,
b) screaming when one of us dared not accompany her
c) coming back to our bedroom repeatedly.
“Did you notice she didn’t have Cokie with her when she came into our bedroom?”
“I didn’t think you were even awake, let alone noticing things,” I said.
“Of course I was awake.”
“She’s never done this before. It’s really incredible!”
“We’re on the right track,” Richard said.