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Rhythms and Nighttime Rituals

Yes bed.

No bed.

Yes bed.

No bed.

And so begins the wind down ritual most nights.

“Open your mouth,” I say. “Let me see if there is a big yawn inside.”

Sam opens wide. A yawn big enough to engulf the entire room emerges.

“Wow. That is a really big yawn,” I observe. “You must be very tired.”

That response signals the start of another word volley with a quick, staccato rhythm:

No bed.

Yes bed.

No bed.

Yes bed.

Tomorrow bed.

Tonight bed. 

Tomorrow bed!

I take a different approach. “Look outside. What do you see?”  

Sam responds, “Nighttime.”

Smiling I ask, “And what do you do when it is nighttime?”

“Sleep” he responds, yawning again. His yawns are contagious. I yawn, too. Sam smiles up at me observing, “Mommy is very tired.”

“Yes,” I acknowledge.

“Turn off the laptop, please,” I direct.

Within a moment or three or four, he complies.

“Thank you!” I compliment lavishly. “You are such a good listener! I will put it on your bureau for you tomorrow.”

I feel his eyes watch as I tuck the laptop up high on his bureau.

“Shall I stay or go?” I ask.

Firmly he says, "Go."

Once upon a time the answer would have been “stay” but like most teens, he pulls away. Because I have lingered a moment, he punctuates with second "Go." I leave, briefly saddened at the banishment but happy at the appropriateness.

The house grows quiet.

 Image of Sam, a young man with autism, sleeping.

Later I wake, confused from sleep, sensing someone at my side. I squint up at Sam as he begins to pull my hand.

“Laptop?” he asks.

I glance over at the clock. 3:17 AM. “No,” I respond, “it is still nighttime. Go back to bed.”

Many nights he returns to his room and falls back to sleep. Tonight sleep eludes. I hear the TV softly in his room. Sam returns at 3:28 and then again at 3:42.

“Laptop?” he asks hopefully each time.

But it isn’t the laptop he wants. He lacks the words to express the trouble. Is it heartburn? A bad dream? Does he even dream? He has never been able to tell me.

I give him two Tums hoping it will help. He looks at me imploringly.

“Do you want me to come with you?” I ask.

“Yes. Yes, come.” He suddenly looks so very young despite the football player build of his 6’1” frame.

Sam lays his head on my shoulder as I sit on his bed. I hold him tightly.

“Squeeze him,” he demands, “squeeze him tight.”

I wrap my arms around him more tightly. It calms him. I feel his body relax.

Have the Tums kicked in or is it simply the calming touch of another person? I don’t know.

“Roll over,” he abruptly announces, the signal for me to release my grip. I wait as his breathing slows into a sleep rhythm, carefully pulling the comforter up. I admire the innocence of his sleep before slipping quietly back to my room.

Hoping to sleep I glimpse the very beginnings of dawn out my window.  I put my head down. All too quickly the alarm rings, signaling the beginning of another day. 

Janet Amorello

Blending with Autism


This is a modified version of an article which first appeared on Janet Amorello’s blog, Blending with Autism.

The views expressed in this story are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.


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