My kids were never good sleepers. Children with high functioning autism rarely are.
But last night something strange was afoot.
I can sense it before it happens—before the audible shuffle and bump. My spidey senses, that with which we mothers are all graciously endowed after growing people between our innards, had me dead asleep one second, to ready to sprint the next. Under the door, a bar of light seeped in. I looked at the clock.
He’s sneaky, my Noah. More than once we’ve found him hiding from us, thinking it funny to ignore our summoning. Sometimes, he hides in his room. Sometimes, it’s in a closet. Once, it was five houses down, in the back of a neighbors car. I’d feel better if we could microchip him.
Noah crafts from a world built for neuro-typical people, a space for himself and his atypical mind.
His favorite spot in the house is in a small corner created by a cabinet and the sidewall of the fireplace, no bigger than a refrigerator box. He would make an excellent thief. Let me rephrase that. HAS made an excellent thief. Just ask his siblings.
Noah was bouncing off the walls before bed last night. When he is wound tight and over tired, he giggles uncontrollably, fixing his mouth open wide as he can, jamming his hands between his knees in a suppression of the urge to flap, his whole body vibrating. It nearly always sets me to laughing because his giggle is infectious and it is just so wonderful—that buzzing brain of his. We have worked hard on his most visible “stims” (self-stimulatory behavior). These are the trappings of autism: the spinning, and rocking, flapping and finger-flicking. But when he is charged with energy, there they are, again.
Every night, I work hard to settle Noah and Jesse before bed. Bedtime is a long, exhausting ritual. For us, there’s more than the jammies and teeth brushing. There’s a complicated orchestration of prayers, and laying on them with our full weight, and back scratching, and story reading, and 100 affirmations of our love through the door when we’ve already closed it and are headed upstairs for the night.
“Yes! We love you, too! Ok....Yes, of course. I love you. Good night....Ok!...PLEASE GO TO BED NOW!”
Ok. If I’m honest, I’m now wondering what kind of substance I was on when I decided it would be a good idea to let two brothers with ASD, ADHD, OCD, and DMDD sleep in the same room.
Last night, we sort of saw it coming. That light in the hall.
The clock read 1:37 am. I nudged Matt awake and out of bed. He walked to the living room where sitting on the couch in the dark was a fully clothed Noah watching TV and playing on his phone.
Matt tried to control the irritation in his voice.
“WHAT are you doing, son?” He leaned into the word “what” like a man about to fall over.
“Well, I couldn’t sleep anymore, so I figured I would just get up and get dressed and get ready for school. I made my bed, and brushed my teeth, and packed my bag, and put food in the dogs’ bowls, and I’m ready to go!”
All of this would have been wonderful. FIVE HOURS LATER.
“Son, do you know what time it is?”
The t.v. was on, as was his phone. They both show the time, but Noah either hadn’t thought to look, or didn’t understand how early it was.
“Son, it’s 1:37 in the morning!”
Noah paused here. Matt’s voice indicated frustration, and Noah can read inflection more easily now. He tried to fix it.
“Well, you can go back to sleep and I can just wait until you get up, right?”
“Noah, do you know how long it is until you have to leave for school?”
Noah blinked. He did not.
“Noah, you have as much time as it takes to play one and a half NFL football games.”
Noah’s eyes widened. It finally made sense.
“Okay, so like 5 hours?”
“Yes, Noah. Five hours.” And so Matt told him to get back in his jammies and get back into bed, telling him that if he couldn’t sleep, he should just close his eyes and spend some time talking to God.
When Matt came back to bed and told me what had happened, my first thought was that Noah was trying to use his phone on the sly (phone use is forbidden after 8:00 pm). But that wasn’t it, Matt told me. His face had the openness of childlike ignorance. This, we’ve found, is often also a hallmark of those on the autism spectrum. Their worlds are a construct of simple yes-or-no, black-or-white. Sarcasm, artifice, double-speak, these things are lost on them.
Noah truly had had no sense of the time, of what the numbers representing it even meant. Matt had to draw an analogy to help it make sense. He had to find the thing that would illuminate something we as neuro-typicals take for granted.
How strange the world must sometimes seem to my boys. Each day reveals more they do not fully understand, and so they must sometimes feel like foreigners among natives.
Matt and I understand more of how the world works, of the subtleties of relationships, and language, and well, time too.
But our knowledge is imperfect. There are mysteries we cannot comprehend.
So it was designed by the One who teaches us the most perfect way to love and encourage and tell our children with buzzing brains to go back to sleep because it’s way too early to be awake.
And because He loves us, He never sleeps. His light never dims, no matter the time.
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Corinthians 13:12