Kids go through phases. You know that because parents say it all the time. Sitting there with a bowl of chili dumped on their head, a neighbor will exhaustedly tell you:
It’s just a phase. I can’t wait until this phase is over.
It’s reassuring to think, right? That’s why moms and dads around the world repeat it. Your kid isn’t always going to do this. You’ll get through it. Phases, am I right?
I remember when my daughter, who is not on the spectrum, was around three. It was then that she went through, what can best be described as, a terrifying phase of continuous gulping. Gulping? Yes, gulping.
She’d just get into a rhythm and, every 20 seconds, let out a loud, “Gulp!” I struggled with whether I should say something or not. I didn’t want to reinforce it by bringing it to light. I was scared that she was broken. I had the gulping kid now. That’s who I had become.
Luckily, it just ended one day and the less said, the better. Maybe an occasional, “Are you alright?” But little else needed to be expressed. She gulped. We knew. Let’s ride this out.
My son, Lucas, is non-verbal with autism and he too has phases. Autism affects him in a way that is not only different from his sister, but different from other kids with autism.
The best example of this is sleep. I know there are so many horror stories of parents trying to settle down a boy like mine for bedtime. I talk to some with kids who are up all night with their little bundles of unrelenting energy. They look at me with so much tiredness in their eyes and eek out, “I’m exhausted. How is Lucas? How does he sleep at night?”
I dunno. Fine?
Seriously. That’s it. He’s the easiest bedtime on Earth. I go into his room, countdown from five, and he closes his Chromebook. He lays back in bed, I put on Raffi on his TV, and he gestures for water. I take the cup and tell him I’ll be back and, when I return within minutes, he’s already asleep.
As far as the getting up, he’s good with that too. His default time now is around 5am. It’s been evolving. A few months ago, it was 3am. So we’re getting better. Even with that, though, he’s fairly good. I can either insist he return to bed and suffer occasional wakeups every fifteen minutes, or I can let him have a device and start his day. It’s tough but it’s not massively difficult. We work through it.
It’s been great. We’ve been great, says the dad with the beaming smile. Except, there’s just a little bit more to it than that. There’s a hidden truth that gets left out of this story of easy evenings.
This has not been regular life. In fact, there was a time, very recently, when bedtimes were nightmares. He wouldn’t stay in bed and the second he opened his eyes, like Christmas morning, he’d spring from his sheets and throw open the sash. So many nights were spent staring at the monitor and going, “What is he doing?” It looked like Paranormal Activity.
Vacations were hell. Whoever shared a bed with him was head-butted and had their eyelids lifted. He was like a baby shark. No sleep, no way.
At one point a few years back, I removed the gate from his room because I insisted we was ready to be trusted. My life became a fantasy horror film. I was never fully awake. I was never fully asleep. I existed to chase him through the darkness to prevent him from opening the refrigerator. Spoiler alert, gate fans – he wasn’t ready.
Today, though, things are great. We got through it. I know what you’re asking. What magical act did I do to make him turn from Mr. Hyde into something better?
Just like his haircuts, the whole ordeal just sort of calmed itself organically. So yeah. Things are fantastic. We’re all great. Although I need to come clean. There is one last hidden truth to it.
We’ve had that before. All this fantastic and all this great – we’ve done it before.
My son has had times of great sleep and better wake-up times. Then, for whatever reason, they veered back and forth. The way things are right now might not be the way things are next week. There are ups and there are downs. Most times, you don’t even know the reason. You just ride it out like the gulps.
That’s a bit of a struggle, if I’m being honest. As a parent, you want to ask your kid, “Why are you awake so late? Are you bothered by something?” But you can’t. You have to just do what you can to figure it out and be patient as you do.
That’s part of parenting, though. It’s not just for a child with special needs but for every child. You need to support them during their good times and work with them during their rough times. I’m here for him. That’s the whole point of me being in his life.
Eventually, I know that my boy will settle into the right routine. I’ve just accepted that there may be bumps in the road. I don’t go into things with expectations that are in his hands rather than mine. He’s shown that, as he gets older, he’s learning what’s right. I’ll always be proud of him, even if this phase doesn’t last.
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