Monday, February 20, 2006

The (Mostly) Good, The Bad, and the (Sometimes) Ugly

Yesterday I was leafing through Oliver's communication log and was pleasantly reminded about what a lovely, good-tempered little guy I've got. Almost every entry goes like this: "Oliver slept well last night, woke up at 6am and is in a good mood." Now here's the thing: aside from the fact that he wakes up a touch on the early side, this simple statement marks how far we've come in the past year. For the first two and a half years of Oliver's life, there was no such thing as a good night's sleep. There were bad nights and awful nights and some even worse than that. Most weeks were punctuated several times with episodic night terrors that left me a limp and soggy puddle by morning. Now there are occassional bad nights but they seem few and far between. Mostly he sleeps.

And the good mood part? Given everything our little guy has to deal with -- all the demands we place on him daily -- he seems to be remarkably easy-going. This is no doubt a testament to his father's genes. And it is true that he is virtually always smiling, quick to laugh and displays his own, quiet brand of humor. But once upon a time there was the little matter of those tantrums. Those really blow-out, nuclear melt-downs that seemed to fuel themselves and leave the whole sorry house sagging in their wake. Those have all but disappeared, too.

Having more good days than bad make you almost forget what it used to be like -- which made the writhing, sobbing mess that I held in my arms on Saturday evening all the more wrenching. The issue at hand was Oliver's insistance that he be allowed to wear his banana smoothie soiled shirt to bed. Nine times out of ten changing clothes is no problem at all and if it is then I can sucessfully divert his attention. But on this particular night it started with: "I want shirt!" and ended with a nuclear explosion. Most ironic was that I had just remarked at dinner time about how it had been a great day with lots of successful outings: first bowling, then the library and finally to the livestock auction (it's purely a spectator's sport for us. Oh, and the animals are interesting, too).

After Oliver was at last in bed he fell asleep almost instantly leaving Nik and I to finally exhale. Since the diagnosis last August we've gotten pretty good at reading, predicting, forecasting, compensating, adjusting, and well, just parenting. We haven't had a tantrum since early November. But I didn't see this one coming and once I could see that it was getting ugly I just wasn't flexible enough to change strategies. After a long day of successfully dealing with all kinds of stimuli I should have just let him wear the shirt or anything else his little heart desired.

Parenting Oliver, I've learned, isn't so different from parenting any other child. And navigating this mother-son relationship isn't that different from navigating any other relationship. We all have good days and bad days, we all have silly days and sad days. And we all get tired from time to time and just want what we want.

Nobody keeps a communication log charting my daily moods and cycles, but if they did I am fairly confident the majority of the entries wouldn't mirror Oliver's. Yes, it is true that sometimes Oliver's autism makes things a bit ugly. Once in awhile we have a bad day. But mostly they are pretty darn good.


  1. ugh, right there with you re: the old nights of terrible, awful sleep, even the night terrors!! i am so glad that's behind you all! and even though we still have some work to do in the sleep area, i'm relieved and delighted to say those nights are behind us too.

    i didn't mean to imply that reading memoirs about autism is a bad thing--far from it! and i'm sure your mommy instincts are intact and RIGHT ON TARGET! and even though my son is very verbal, his signals of distress are mostly non-verba--his noises, faces, gestures, and body language. those are what stand out to me.

  2. Congrats on the good nights of sleep. Noah is five now and still has more bad nights than good, though he is improving. He has gotten some better on his meltdowns, though when he wants to wear his spider man pj's for the whole day, it is definitely a chore to try and distract him and generally a failed effort still. Looks like your instincts are right on target and you are doing an excellent job!!

  3. We have had the same pattern: Beautiful day with lots of activities and then, right before bed, MELTDOWN. I always feel I should have seen it coming but why, after such a great day? And then I think, it is Charlie's rather excessive way of expressing how tired he is after so much all day; it is him reverting to his old ways after so much newness in his day.

    Ugly and bad, the days are still good.

  4. Hmmm...communication notes on my moods...that might be interesting (yeah, right). Ticklish thought, though.

    Can completely relate on the sleep front. Thank goodness Adam sleeps through the night now. I was a completely different being in those days with little sleep.

    Hang in there,


  5. I'm so glad to hear that Oliver is having Mostly Good Days! Good Nights are even better. I second Kristina, ugly or bad but always still good. I've witnessed Brian and many of my NT nieces and nephews have meltdowns from being so over-tired at the end of the day, so of course our children are entitled to the same once in a while.