A while ago I wrote about the ongoing problems we’ve had with my son’s sleep (at the time, some of the core issues were regular wakings at 3am, and sleeping sideways on his bed). In the process of writing that post, I got thinking about what was causing the disturbance and odd habits, and how I might be able to address them. Eventually I decided he needed something to focus on during the night when he woke to break the habit of coming to our room; a new routine he could perform in his own room to replace the visit to our bedroom.
I bought him a bus pillow. I chose a bus pillow because he loves vehicles, and he loves squeezing pressure; hugging his bus pillow ticked the boxes. I sat him down and explained to him that instead of coming to mummy and daddy’s room when he wakes in the night, he should grab his bus pillow, squeeze it really tight, and go back to sleep. I repeated this tale to him many times, and showed him how to do it. I got him to repeat it for me, and reinforced his actions with praise and cuddles.
But as with each solution to a problem caused by my son’s autism, unforeseen new obsessions or consequences arise in response. As his occupational therapist used to tell me: It’s two steps forward, one step back. You open up new doors in the mind, and somewhere another door blows shut.
Sure enough, the improved sleep patterns started unraveling again. This time he wanted to make sure that the bus pillow was facing the right way, and needed our help to assure this. The bus pillow must be upside down, with the bus doors facing him. Sometimes the bus pillow goes missing over the side of his bed, and he asks me to fetch it back. Two nights ago I got out of bed three times at his request, but none were specifically bus pillow related: One was needing a wee, another was he wanted his sheets to be straight, and the third was he’d fallen off the side of the bed (poor thing, but he was OK, just a tad shocked).
Even though none of those three events were specifically bus pillow related, each time that I returned him to bed I had to make sure the bus pillow was upside down and with doors facing him. (Not that easy to do in the dark might I add; he doesn’t want the light on but somehow knows his bus pillow is facing the wrong way, but needs help to correct it.)
We’ve had other sleep-time changes since that last post too. Of particular note, he now sleeps lengthways in his bed, with his head on a pillow instead of requiring two pillows to either side of his head. I take my successes where I can get them.
The sleep problems will continue, and change in type over time. But taking a step back I can see the strong trend of overall improvement: A child who sleeps under sheets; with season appropriate clothing; who doesn’t rub his head on the wall to the point of causing bald patches; who is able to sleep through the night at least sometimes; and who almost never wets the bed.
Sure, he likes his sheets straight, and his tissue box and two handkerchiefs beside him on the bed each night, and yes his room sounds somewhat unusual at night as his various clocks and watches fill the otherwise silence with endless tickings; but each night as he goes to bed hugging his upside-down bus, he has a smile across that perfect little face of his. And I remind myself:
Two steps forward, one step back, is still progress. And if he’s going to bed each night happy, then we must be progressing in a good direction.