On Thursday night I flopped into bed after one of those days that just didn’t start well. We had overslept, scrambled, took showers throughout the morning between meetings, the luxury of working from home I suppose. It was just one of those days, and we could all feel it, especially Mark. As I laid in bed, at the end of a day that made my skin crawl, I was watching the news coverage of the riots in Minnesota, feeling the sadness and heaviness, and I could hear Mark screaming from his room. He was sobbing and yelling indecipherable things, and as usual, because he can’t tell us what’s wrong we had no idea how to help him. Ike went in and redid the bedtime routine, putting his blankets back in the bed, reading him a story, and singing his goodnight song. As soon as Ike left the room, Mark chucked everything out of his bed again and resumed the screaming. Sadly, we’ve been through this routine many times before. We go through bad sleep jags which include weeks of screaming before falling asleep, night waking, and all the usual suspects of the poor sleep that seems to come along with an autism diagnosis.
It’s hard to find the words to describe not being able to comfort your child. I hear parents vent about their frustration, or guilt, with co-sleeping. And I know many parents love it because it’s bonding and snuggle time, and everyone gets to sleep. For us, it’s not even an option. Our boy will scream, and no amount of snuggling, soothing, or co-sleeping will stop it. It is probably one of the hardest things we deal with in the “unable to help him” category.
Over the years, we’ve tried lots of things, honestly, too many to list. And what always seems to happen is that once I’ve ordered something on Amazon to help us address it, he’s mysteriously gone back to sleeping normally.
So on this night, after the screaming and sobbing had gone on for close to two hours I said to Ike, “should I go in there?” Please understand that every ounce of me wanted to run into his room, rock my seven-year-old, and tell him that he’s safe, loved and that everything will be ok, but I’m also very aware of the heartache I carry around knowing that those actions and words likely won’t remedy the situation, and likely, will leave me feeling defeated. But, even so, Ike said “go be a mama to him”.
So I took the risk. I went in, opened his enclosed bed, put the pillow and blankets back, and climbed in. He continued to cry so I wiped his nose and face, rubbed his back as the sobs lowered to whimpers. I then laid down and tried to coax him to lay down with me. He remained in a seated position on his knees staring out the opening of his bed at the color-changing essential oil diffuser perched on his dresser. As he watched it change from red to blue to purple, I could see his features soften so I began to sing to him. Hid forehead relaxed, his right cheek dimple appeared, and he slouched in relaxation as I sang several of his favorites. After I finished singing, I just laid there for a while watching him stare at the colors. Occasionally he would look down at me curiously, but mostly just stared. I reminded myself that he does a lot of looking at us through using his peripheral vision so I imagined the staring at the diffuser was staring at me. I talked to him, reassured him, and touched his hand. He mostly sat motionless with no response.
As I laid there, I worried that if I got up and left he would go right back to crying, so I lingered awhile. He never laid down or cuddled with me. We did what we often do together, be together without words. He sat next to me in silence, content, and tolerant of my presence, and knowing my son as I do, I knew that was significant.
Eventually, I climbed out of the bed opening, closed the door, and left his room telling him that I loved him. As I walked back to our bedroom, I listened, waited and it was quiet. When I entered our room, Ike looked at me and said “you fixed him!” And dumfounded, I realized that I had.
For the first time in seven years, I was able to soothe him. I’ve spent so many nights rocking him, reassuring him, pleading to God to stop the screaming. I’ve felt like such a failure for not being able to do something that I felt as a mother I should be able to do. I still don’t know what was wrong or what he wanted, and I wish I knew what parts of that recipe were helpful, but I came away with the confidence to try again next time.