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When My Teenage Autistic Son Struggles With Insomnia

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I’d always loved the idea of reading to kids when I was a teen and swore that by the time I had children of my own, I’d read to them as often as I could. Even when my older son was a baby, I read to him every single night. 
As time went on, it became a place, a space, a time of bonding, of uninterrupted connectivity, of shared unbridled fun, of non-formal learning and deep joy. I looked forward to that time of day, my sons too, that time when we entered our little bubble and for just a moment, we’d be cut off from the outside world. A time when we came face to face with boy wizards, and talking animals, or learned about civilizations past or traveled the globe from right within our bedroom. Bedtime stories became an essential and protected time in our household.

In the days and months after my son’s autism assessment, I didn’t know that insomnia would raise its ugly head so frequently. In fact, as many as 80% of autistics can experience insomnia, an aspect that unfortunately became our reality. Days would turn into weeks before he’d find a respite. Still, as I devoured as much literature and observed my son as much as I could. I decided that even routinizing something as simple and mundane as preparation for bed may be key to both him and the rest of the household getting a good night’s sleep.

“Our Bedtime Routine” was thus born. I made sure to include a massage as often as possible, which would help to not only relax him but somehow bring his senses back to zero. Even a delicious cup of hot chocolate was part of the schedule. But central to our routine was a bedtime story. Having a solid bedtime routine meant that most days, my son and his brother, by extension had a good start to their day. The importance of a bedtime routine cannot be overstated.

Fast forward to the present time when the lockdown due to COVID-19 threw everything out of whack. Even though we’d manage to hold on to a daylight schedule mostly centered around online classes and assignments, the anxiety born of our “cabin fever,” and the issues surrounding the pandemic juxtapositioned with the looming depression made for strange bedfellows at night. My son, now long past a visual timetable of any kind, struggled with the simple yet challenging business of falling asleep. One day, however, when it all became too overwhelming, he simply just walked into the kitchen and made himself a cup of delicious hot chocolate.

Since the lockdown, there has been a bedtime story program where local stories are being read to children on social media. Three of my very own stories were read on this program, Read2MeTT. Two days later, when my older son again struggled to close his eyes, plagued by thoughts and overwhelmed by anxiety, I, inspired by Read2MeTT and recalling our routine of old, read one of my stories to my son.

At 16, he is too old for a bedtime story. Too old to be tucked in by words. Too old to be comforted by the gift of a nightly tale. Or is he?
 For the first time in over a month, my older son smiled, pulled up his sheets and simply went to sleep.

“Did you hear that? 
Did you? 
My children were sleeping, eyes sealed shut while visions were dancing, giggles and smiles as dreams morphed into castles, giant rides, and faraway lands. 
Knights and monsters and aliens rising up into battle. 
My children were sleeping. 
It was the sound of silence.” –Excerpt from “The Sound of Silence,” written by Dr. Debra Bartholomew

This story originally appeared on Dr. Deb’s Diary.

Art provided by contributor.

Originally published: August 26, 2020
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