98: Bedtime Routine

98: Bedtime Routine

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Bedtime Routine

We do not remember days, we remember moments.

~Cesare Pavese

A kiss goodnight from your child is a privilege most parents take for granted.

For some of us with children on the autism spectrum, it is the elusive gold ring we reach for every night — and getting it makes everything — all the hard work, all the therapy, all the bills we pay — worth it, for that one brief moment when those soft lips touch our exhausted cheeks. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get an “I love you” along with it.

I’ve been putting James to bed for over eight years, and our interaction in those final minutes before he drifts off to sleep has evolved over time. Pre-diagnosis, I thought nothing of it — I’d give James a big kiss, put him in his crib, whisper goodnight, and walk out of the room. Post-diagnosis, the silence that I received in return was deafening. It had never occurred to me before to be concerned that when I said “Goodnight, James, I love you,” my toddler said nothing in response. Suddenly, I needed to hear him say something. So, my husband and I began prompting James to say goodnight back to us. “Say goodnight, Mommy” we’d tell him. And from the crib, this is what we would hear: “Say goodnight, Mommy.”

For over a year, this was the parting salutation of the day. Every night, it made me cry. I never got used to it, and I never gave up hope that one night, I’d hear something more organic come out of James’s mouth.

Finally, when James turned four, he dropped the “say” — and his response became “Goodnight, Mommy.” It was fantastic — but it was still prompted.

At six, I got my first unprompted, “Goodnight, Mommy. I love you.” Next to my wedding, and births of my children, this was the most exciting night of my life.

A year later, my husband and I were putting James to bed, and we were treated to this little gem: “Mommy, how come when someone says I love you, you say I love you, too — not just I love you?” Given James’s fixation with numbers, my husband sought to clarify. “Well, you know, buddy, it’s T-O-O, like, also, not T-W-O,” Linguist James stepped up. “There’s three different kinds of too — there’s T-O-O, also, and there’s T-W-O, the number, and then there’s T-O — like, you know to go TO someplace!”

James, now eight, routinely kisses us goodnight and tells us he loves us. The other evening, he came out with a classic, quirky, comment — pure James. After giving me a big hug and kiss, James told me, “You’re a great mom! You’re not a mom with feathers, or a mom with colors and markers. I’m glad you’re a . . . a person!” I don’t know if he had the book Are You My Mother? on his mind, or if this was just one of the many random thoughts that cross my son’s brain on a daily basis. I do know it was music to my ears . . . and one more gold ring that I grasped tightly in my hand.

~Nancy Burrows

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