By Jennifer Dyer
Staying with someone other than your nuclear family can be stressful … for everyone. Since our relocation a few weeks ago, we have been staying with family while we wait for our last house to close and look for a new one. Most of the time, this has been quite pleasant. Last night … not so much.
Sleep and autism are words that do not often mesh. For some reason, children with autism struggle to sleep. We often have nights where Rachel is up for hours only to fall asleep right before school. Last night was one of those.
In our previous house, nights such as those were spent with Rachel in the bonus room watching TV or being allowed to yell and scream without waking big sister. Because our upstairs had carpet, we could keep the sound from traveling. Not so in this house. With wood floors and several children needing to go to school, Rachel yelling and screaming at 4 a.m. is not … convenient, especially when she wants to sleep in the room with big sister and cousin. (And the Labrador with the loudest tail wag I have ever heard.)
So, you can imagine last night. I tried everything to keep Rachel silent, but she wasn’t having any of it. The kids woke up. The dog thought it was time for breakfast and her tail thumped out a drummer beat a band would love. Rachel wouldn’t stop yelling, no matter what I tried. She wanted me to sit—not sleep—next to her, and did not want my pillow anywhere nearby. My daughter and niece were fed up, as I was. After almost an hour, several room changes, and a host of trips to the kitchen, I lost it. “Shut up! Just shut up!” I hissed. “Why won’t you just shut up?”
Shame washed over me, but it didn’t defrost my anger. I was derailing and saying things I didn’t like to say. Exhaustion, frustration with Rachel and her autism, and worry for the well-being with others pushed me to my limit.
In desperation to escape the situation and my anger, I told Rachel we were going to the car. That is how I found myself contemplating animals that eat their young while sitting outside my sister’s house in the middle of the night, hoping a police officer didn’t drive by and arrest me for loitering.
I put my head on the steering wheel and prayed out loud. I asked God to forgive me for my harsh words and that he would not let my barely-verbal child pick up those ugly words. (Words stored with a strong emotional attachment are often easier for the brain to access, which is why many children with speech problems can cuss better than they can say other words.)
After cooling off for a while (literally) in the car, Rachel and I decided to go back inside. After I got her settled, she quieted down and we went back to sleep … for about 30 minutes.
Hopefully, tonight will be different. And that is something I must cling to: hope. Hope is how I make it through every day.
May your days—and nights—be filled with hope, my friends.