green tinted night sky

For the last few weeks, Kane has fallen asleep in his closet. By choice. And he’s perfectly thrilled with this new routine.

At first, it bothered me. He has a comfortable bed, but instead my child has opted to fall asleep like Harry Potter in his cupboard under the stairs at the Dursleys’ cottage.

Good news is that I’m married to someone who has a more relaxed view o’ things than I do sometimes. “Don’t worry. It’s a phase. Just like sleeping in our room was.”

Right. Perspective.

For a good year, maybe longer, Kane thought the highlight of his week was to sleep in our room on Friday nights on the floor by our dresser. At first, it was a treat. Then, it became an expectation. He even believed that the next step — one of maturing into adulthood, in fact — was moving from the floor of our room to sleeping between us in bed. Jeff and I got a good chuckle out of that.

Recently though, even being in our room had lost its charm. No matter where he was, his bedroom or ours, Kane started futzing over the most mild nuances of the position of his pillows and becoming increasingly distressed at how fidgety he felt. It seemed to be a combination of utter exhaustion (most likely tied to medicinal changes) and sensory challenges, but even the sensory aids we regularly use weren’t helping in the slightest.

If he looks like he needs it, we encourage bouncing well before bed, either on an exercise ball or on his indoor Jungle Jumparoo. If he wants it, we give him a sensory diet of brushing and joint compression right before bed. We use a weighted blanket on his bed to give him that feeling of constant pressure. If needed, though less common, we have a massager that we can use on his back that also helps him relax.

We transitioned to this closet phase, in part, because Kane insisted that he’d be more comfortable sleeping there instead of in his bed and, in part, because I was both too worn out to resist and grateful for a new idea.

This is certainly not the first phase we’ve gone through, and it will undoubtedly not be the last, but they all have a general theme: they are painstakingly consistent and highly scripted.

For example, he went through a phase last summer where he was incredibly time conscious. If we were off of his bedtime by even a few minutes, his anxiety escalated to catastrophic levels. He went through an earlier phase where he had to walk us to the door, say our good night script, and then he kissed and hugged us and walked back to his bed. We had another phase where we tucked him in and he would ask to be checked on, so we would leave the room for two minutes, come back to check on him, and then turn out the light. (That one started when I told him that I check on him before I go to bed, and he felt that I needed to check on him while he was still awake.)

Regardless of the phase though, there’s not a lot of flexibility in the process. If things go out of order and he’s exhausted, emotions can escalate quickly or the sequence must be repeated to satisfy his need for consistency. The exactness of the nighttime schedule is something that we participate in and support because it ends his day on a consistent note, yet we also work with him to alter it when it’s creating a situation that isn’t working well for us.

Once a routine is set, it takes a long time to move to a different flavor of that routine. As I already noted, sometimes we have to change things out of necessity for our sanity or to enforce a limit/boundary. Other times, Kane grows out of it and into something new. If you check with me in another year, we will likely have changed something, but I’m also sure much of it will be the same. We do find that limiting electronic and television use before bed is a must, a snack is good if dinner was a little lighter, and it is definitely not a good idea to push his bedtime to the point where he is supremely overtired. Even on holidays. Actually, especially on holidays.

We have a visual chart that outlines the steps for bed, and although it’s got cards on it that we can move around, not much has changed since we put it together. We also don’t outline every activity, but you can get as detailed as you need to when creating a visual schedule. Also, you can use a combination of text and pictures, as shown here, only pictures, or only text. In comparison, Kane uses a visual schedule for school that has only text.

visual schedule for evening

Our typical routine is:

  1. Take a bath.
  2. Dress for bed.
  3. Take nighttime vitamins. (We use over-the-counter melatonin, and vitamin C to mask the taste. Please check with your doctor on recommended amounts of melatonin. You don’t need much.)
  4. Brush teeth.
  5. Do our bedtime activities. (This is where we go crazy and shake it up sometimes with something new, but basically we cuddle, read, sing, talk, and give him his sensory diet, if requested.)
  6. Set up the room. (Turn on the sound machine, turn on the oil diffuser, turn on/off the appropriate lights.)
  7. Go to the bathroom and get drink of water.
  8. Get tucked in.
  9. Make sure certain things, like pillows, stuffed animals, headphones, blankets, are just so.
  10. Say our good night script.

If there’s an activity or aid that can possibly reduce anxiety and add to a calming, peaceful bedtime routine, we’ve likely tried it. These are a few of the things that we’ve tried, and many of these we still use, either actively or passively:

  • Sound machine. We’ve had this since Kane was a few months old. We played the womb sound early on, and now we stick with the sound of the ocean.
  • Essential oils diffuser. We typically use a mix of lavender and something else like vetiver or cedarwood. Nothing too strong, and typically only scents that are meant to aid relaxation or lessen anxiety.
  • Pouches of dried lavender in his room.
  • Crystals and “magic” stones for him to hold.
  • Listing what we’re grateful for.
  • Talking about the good dreams we’re going to have, or positive thoughts to think about when drifting off to sleep.
  • Meditation. Sometimes the things that provide comfort can also backfire. We tried a specific meditation for a while that Kane liked, but if he fell asleep during it (which is a massive success in my book), he would get upset and want to restart it.
  • Prayer.
  • A (Victor Hugo) poem that my sister and I used to say when we were young, and that my mom also taught Kane:
    “Good night! Good night!
    Far flies the light;
    But still God’s love
    Shall shine above,
    Making all bright,
    Good night! Good night!”

In the case of our new closet phase, I recognized that my biggest concern was that Kane wasn’t sleeping well. Because he was sleeping in a lighted closet (you didn’t think he was sleeping in the dark, did you?), he was waking up during the night or extra early in the morning, which meant that I was too. So, we varied the routine slightly, and now we’re all happy. Kane falls asleep in the closet, I get him up to go to the bathroom before I go to bed, and then I move him to his bed.

Win, win.

Plus, this is a pretty posh “cupboard under the stairs,” don’t you think? 🙂

cozy closet

About Tabitha MacGowan

Hi, I’m Tabitha. I’m an author, autism parent, and advocate of acceptance, compassion, and love. I believe that we are all here for each other and we can co-create the world we want to live in. My book, Phig and the Eaven Prophecy, is a delicious fantasy written from the perspective of a boy on the autism spectrum. I invite you to join me and be a part of my magical world!

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