Birthdays and Sleep

Michael’s been missing his birthday, even though his party was six months ago.  This is something my brain totally doesn’t understand but yet has to deal with.  Just about every morning he wakes up, when I greet him with a cheery “Good morning!”, he responds with “I’m sad.  My birthday’s all gone.”  Sometimes that’s it, but sometimes it escalates into more crying, more anxiety, total withdrawal from what’s going on around him.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but now he can’t get dressed.  He can’t pay attention.  He can’t make it to the breakfast table.  And I have two little ones who also need changing and dressing and feeding who are crying because they’re hungry too.  It can be a mess.

I have no idea what this is.  I’ve heard autistic people can sometimes have a delayed emotional reaction.  If this is that, it seems pretty extreme.  It could also be that he has a ton of family members (yes, it’s actually a ton), and they’ve all been having birthdays recently, so maybe it’s just triggering a memory for him.  Or it could be he’s upset about something else and doesn’t have the vocabulary to tell me what it is.  As a fairly concrete person myself who just likes to march in a fix a problem, this whole affair is a bit too nebulous for me.

A lot of family and friends have had some nice ideas about hosting little birthdays, or unbirthdays, and the thought is nice, but it’s made me a little wary.  I have no idea how that will translate into his head.  He would never understand an unbirthday.  In his mind, if there’s a party, cake, or gift, it’s a birthday.  Then I wouldn’t want him used to having “birthdays” more often.  And let’s not forget that he was SO excited about his real birthday last November that it actually made him sick and more autistic for almost a whole month after.  It doesn’t help that it’s right on top of the Christmas season.  He didn’t recover from the all excitement until February.

His RDI therapist had some great ideas about how to cope with this, and they’ve been working!  One time, when we were in the living room, he spontaneously fell into my lap having one of these spells, and I picked up a plastic toy pie from the floor, sang him happy birthday, and had him blow out the pretend candles.  Because we used a toy, he knew it was only make believe, but living the memory seemed to be a temporary holdover for him.  She also recommended we show him pictures of his party, so I did that, and he was thrilled to see his cake again.

*Side note: This cake was a huge deal for him.  He started asking for an Iron Man cake four whole months before his birthday.  He reminded me EVERY SINGLE DAY that he had to have an Iron Man cake for his birthday.  He was SO excited when a friend came over to help me make one (because I had no idea where I was going to find a dairy free Iron Man cake, and I wasn’t paying for a special order).  He went nuts and loved it, and now it’s one of the things he cries that he misses.

The famous cake



We’ve also been trying to help him sleep better at night.  Despite my effort to keep him outdoors for hours at a time, his body is often quite restless at bedtime, and he won’t fall asleep till hours after he’s been put to bed.  I’ve noticed he’s often much calmer in enclosed spaces, so we pulled the baby’s pack ‘n play out of the attic, filled it with blankets and pillows, and that’s his little man cave for when the world’s a little too overwhelming for him.  He seems to alternate between the pack ‘n play and his bed throughout the night, but he’s not calling out for us or disrupting his brothers quite as often, so this has been a good development.  He’s too big for the pack ‘n play and really needs a larger “sleeping box” at this point, but we’re still in the planning stages of that.

Last night, Nate and I came home very late from church, and my parents had put the children to bed.  True to form, Gabriel and William were totally asleep, and Michael was still energetically bouncing about, unable to relax.  When the birthday talk started again, I printed out a little page with his party pictures on it and put him in his pack ‘n play with the page.  He was so happy just looking at everything and narrating each of the pictures that I thought for sure he would be up for at least another hour.

Five minutes later, I found this.



And his sleeping partner.


We do whatever we gotta do to get some sleep, am I right?? 🙂

Happy Thursday!!

3 thoughts on “Birthdays and Sleep

  1. I love the pretend birthday angle! Now that you say it, this reminds me that My littles play pretend birthday spontaneously a lot. They get dressed up in dress up clothes or a fancy outfit (the girls more than the boys on this one). They make birthday cards. They even wrap their toys in drawing paper and gift them to themselves again. They sing and they make and serve “cupcakes” with their kitchen toys. They break out in dancing and party games. They have birthday parties for their favorite stuffed animals. Or the stuffed animals are guests at their party.

    I think you’ve really hit on something. He wants to talk about what he remembers and how happy it made him just like everyone else does, but he doesn’t have siblings that can facilitate this game with him, and he doesn’t know how to say it yet. I wish I’d realized the birthday play to tell you about while you were heart aching about this problem, but it’s funny that it’s so common to our household for years now I didn’t even think anything of it!
    Photo memories are great too. Not just birthdays but also special trips and fun days. You’re helping him have his memories reinforced and his feelings validated without creating a false scenario. Good job, mama!

    • Not having neurotypical children of age yet, I totally had no idea that was so common place. I don’t really remember doing that much as a child myself. Maybe I can help Michael have a few more pretend birthday parties. Come to think of it, he used to do a lot of pretend birthday parties on his own BEFORE he had his birthday. They stopped afterwards for some reason, I’m not sure why. Thanks for telling me about yours, I will help him a little with this on a regular basis and see if it helps.

      I want to make him a photo album. He’s had lots and the problem is he likes to dismantle things so I’d find the photos ruined and strewn everywhere, but he’s getting a little better about it now, so I may try again. He just saw the pictures of Sunday’s Easter egg hunt and that made him pretty happy too.

  2. I’ve had friends that did 1/2 birthday parties for their kids when they were fairly young, which were smaller celebrations than the full birthday. I think this might have stemmed from being around others with birthdays, and when you are 3-6 or so, a year is kind of crazy long. Plus, a lot happens in those half years! It sounds like you are doing some helpful things – I don’t know if smaller 1/2 (or 1/4) birthdays would help or not.

    Also- the cake is amazing!

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