Sleep. Say that word to the parents of an autistic child and it will stir up all sorts of emotions. Children on the spectrum frequently have some sort of sleep issue; they either don’t go to bed till late, wake ridiculously early, wake frequently or barely sleep at all. Some need melatonin to help regulate their sleep. Most parents with children not on the spectrum will have gone through some sort of sleep issue at some point in their child’s life. Some are quite fortunate, and sleep-disturbed nights only lasted through the young baby phase, some a little longer, perhaps.
I haven’t really slept properly since I was pregnant with H, so around nine years now. He was a little bugger whilst still in the womb, causing me to have SPD – Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction – making my pelvis incredibly painful and meaning that I had to ‘sleep’ (I use the term incredibly loosely) sitting up in a camping chair in the bedroom for the last three months of pregnancy. Then, once he was born, I could count on the fingers of one hand how many nights he slept through without disturbing me, or waking ridiculously early, until he was about five and had started school. Of course, by this point we’d had Tink, reasoning that we might as well carry on with the sleepless nights seeing as we were so used to them. It had actually put us off having any more children for a while though.
Tink, however, was quite different. She did the usual baby thing of waking for feeds through the night – no problem. That’s to be expected. Once a bit older, she settled into quite a nice routine of going up to bed at around 7pm after her evening milk, we’d read a story or two (not that she was really bothered about that part, but I was), then she’d go off to sleep on her own. She might wake once or twice in the night, but usually because her dummy had fallen out and she needed it retrieving from under the bed. Annoying, but, as I said, we were used to being woken. Occasionally, if she was really poorly, she’d spend a night or two in with me, but was quite happy to go back to her own bed when better. She’d still wake up quite early – pre 6am, but that wasn’t too bad as we’re early risers anyway – but generally, when asked what kind of night she’d had, I could answer “not bad actually”.
I’m not even sure when this all changed, but it was sometime towards the last quarter of last year. I was absolutely exhausted. My job was causing stress and anxiety, and this means that I don’t sleep well anyway, as I have a million and one things racing around in my head at night. Tink had started going to bed later, and not settling down straight away, but getting back out of bed and standing at the gate on her door, shouting and crying to come back out. It was taking longer and longer for her to settle and I was getting more and more anxious and exhausted. When she woke in the night – often – it was just easier to bring her into my bed. I’d tried going in with her and sitting with her, or lying on a mattress next to her bed, but it would take ages for her to get back off to sleep, by which time I was wide awake. Her coming in with me meant that we would both get back to sleep relatively quickly and not feel so awful come the morning. However, bringing Tink in with me meant there was no room for Daddy.
Dave had been sleeping on the too-small sofa for weeks. It actually started before Tink joining me, as he would come home from work late at night and chill out watching TV, then just doze off and not move. This is why it was easy for me to just bring Tink in and we just sort of fell into a routine. She would still go to bed in her own bed, but would wake up most nights and wander in to me, climb in and doze back off. Then it started getting worse. As I’d take her up to bed, we’d pass our bedroom door and she’d say, “Mummy’s bed?” and it became harder and harder to get her to settle in her own. So I, stupidly, gave in, and started letting her go to sleep in my bed. And then it was easier to leave her there, as if we’d have moved her into her own bed she would have, more often than not, woken in the night anyway. And so Daddy kept sleeping on the sofa. We eventually took down Tink’s cotbed and set up a camp bed in her room for Daddy. And then, she somehow conned us into letting her watch her tablet until she nodded off! It just got worse and worse! Not to mention what it’s doing to Dave and my relationship…
So, the time has come to stop the rot and get some order back. I have just over two weeks off work, Tink has the same holiday from nursery. I’ve buggered it up slightly by booking a short holiday in the last week, but that still gives us some time to try to get her sleeping back in her own room, and without the help of the tablet. Last night was Night One.
New routine: bath, into PJs, straight into her own bed where she has her milk while I read a story or two (she’s still not bothered by these, but I miss reading them!). No tablet, no ‘Mummy’s bed’. Which she did ask for, several times. I had to sit with her, on the hard floor, for about an hour until she dropped off to sleep. Then do that crazy ninja stealth thing where you creep out of the room without stepping on the creaky floorboard and try to close the creaky door as quietly as you can (I really must dig out the WD40!). And she was fine, she was asleep in her own bed, for the first time in months. And Daddy still fell asleep on the sofa…
And then, at 2am, I hear a “noooo!” and little footsteps heading for the door, and the handle frantically being tried. I raced into her to stop her coming my way and she’d lost her dummy, of course. “Mummy’s bed?” “No, Tink’s bed now,” I replied, steering her back in. I then spent the next hour trying to settle her. She’d pop up every so often, and say “Mummy’s bed?” and then, eventually, she sat up, said, “Good night Mummy,” gave me a kiss and, “see you in the mor-ming.” Rolled over and appeared to go to sleep. I waited a couple of minutes, then shuffled my now numb bottom slightly in preparation to get up. “Mummy’s bed!” *Sigh*
I spent another hour and a half either sitting or lying on the hard, cold floor while she fidgeted and shuffled and said “good night Mummy” every so often. Eventually, I caved. I could take no more. My feet were like blocks of ice, my back and dodgy hip in agony. I got up. “Mummy’s bed! Yay!”
She was asleep within minutes.
Tonight, we try again…