By: Fred Marvel
This blog was originally featured on the blog for the National Council on Severe Autism.
After enduring a rough ending to the school year in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, my family needed a summer getaway. My wife and I decided to treat ourselves to a resort near the Jersey Shore which consisted of a nice pool, a spray ground, and nightly campfires with s’mores. We were certain our three boys would love it.
Our oldest son Aleks was 10 at the time and has autism, ADHD and sensory processing disorder along with a history of traumatic brain injury; however, he loves to swim so we were convinced that having a pool close by would be the perfect spot for our vacation. Aleks has also had sleep issues throughout his entire life. Due to his traumatic brain injury, autism and asthma, it took many years to develop a bedtime routine that worked for him and us. Even though Aleks occasionally still needs us in the middle of the night the situation had greatly improved.
It was our first night away from home, and our boys were exhausted after a day of running around and swimming. We followed the same bedtime routine we used at home. We read books, brushed our teeth, and brought the sound machine Aleks used in his bedroom at home. 30 minutes after lights out Aleks wandered into our bedroom because he couldn’t sleep, and so my wife tried laying beside him. The diversion was not successful, and we let Aleks listen to music with his headphones. Still no success. Over the next couple of hours, we tried everything we could think of, and nothing worked. Finally, at around midnight, Aleks fell asleep.
We were certain that the next night would go smoother as Aleks was now familiar with the resort and our room. We reasoned he had to be even more exhausted than the previous day after a rough night of sleep and more swimming, running, and campfires. We were wrong again. This time things were much worse. Aleks’ bedtime routine didn’t work, laying in bed with him didn’t work, and listening to music didn’t work. Everyone in the family was now familiar with a whole new level of exhaustion when Aleks finally fell asleep at 4:00 a.m.
Aleks struggled because we were in a new place, nothing was familiar, and he was too excited thinking about the fun he was having to be able to wind down at night. While we understood his struggles, something had to change or our vacation was going to have to end early. When Aleks was younger we gave him melatonin to help him calm down and relax before bed. Luckily, there was a pharmacy nearby that had plenty of melatonin and the next two nights were better, and we enjoyed our vacation.
We still vacation as a family but we prep ahead of time. We look at pictures and resort tour videos so Aleks knows what to expect. We bring his blanket and pillow from home so he has familiar items with him at bedtime. We won’t let two rough nights stop us from trying new experiences with our boys, and we’re thankful that we’ve found methods that help with Alek’s sleep.
Fred Marvel is a paralegal and podcaster who lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with his wife of almost 16 years and three sons. His podcast, The Spectrum Dad, features interviews with members of the autism community and his own stories as an autism parent. You can connect with Fred on Instagram @thespectrumdadpod.