Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Sound in the Night

I heard the music singing from the CD player at 3:30 a.m. The Christmas songs the kids are practicing for the choir at church were blaring from Ethan's room.

At first, I didn't get up. Just a few weeks ago, when I asked why he sometimes turns on music in the middle of the night, he said it was because he wakes up and feels scared. And while I again reassured him he could talk to us in the night if he was afraid, I thought it wasn't such a bad way to cope.

I fell back asleep and woke to the music playing again, and then a third time. Then I heard the door open to Ethan's room and got up to see him.

"What's that noise?" he asked in the hallway, sounding wide awake. His music had stopped.

"What noise?" I asked blearily.

"THAT one." He paused. I paused. I heard nothing. We've realized for awhile that Ethan has super-hero type hearing, and can pick up sounds at decibels and frequencies we have much more trouble hearing."What is that? It sounds like an alarm?"

I focused and listened hard, then I heard it. A very faint beeping kind of sound. I walked closer to his window and leaned closer. A-ha.

"Ethan, that's a cricket!"

"A CRICKET? It doesn't sound like a cricket." That's because crickets around here don't last much past October. We'd already had a light frost or two. It happened to be an unusually mild night, and this one cricket was chirping a low, slow, lonesome chorus.

"It IS a cricket, Ethe. That's all."

"It's not an alarm?" I realized he was probably thinking of earlier, when Dan had said the batteries were low in a smoke detector over at our business and the thing had been chirping incessantly every 15 seconds.

"It's not an alarm. Is that why you turned on the music? So you couldn't hear it?"

"Yeah..." His eyes were full of relief, but getting heavy. I tucked him back under the covers.

In the morning, I thought about something you hear a lot in relation to kids and autism (or maybe sometimes just kids in general). Behavior is communication. Kids rarely behave randomly. There's a reason they act the way they do. That's especially true for those with special needs who might have trouble articulating exactly what they're thinking or feeling.

I am overwhelmingly grateful that Ethan has been able to express to us, this past year or two, some of the motivation behind what he does. He could tell me, thank God, that he turns on music at night because he feels scared or to block out sounds that he hears better than the average person.

I imagined him being less verbal, or non-verbal. I thought about the things I see sometimes, watching a person with autism. I don't just mean the obvious covering of the ears to block out sounds. I mean the night waking, or talking loudly, or flicking fingers in front of the eyes. I mean humming, or spinning, or tapping. If only we could see what they see or hear what they hear. If only we could feel what they feel. Would we then see -- that the humming or tapping is perhaps to block out a sound that's too loud that gives them a "nails on a chalkboard" feeling? That the hands in front of the eyes are to cover the over-abundance of light that flickers in a way others can't understand? That the spinning is to make their body feeling something the average person feels, to find their place in space, or to avoid a feeling of being lost in their own body, that others could never fathom? Do they wake up at night because things are running through their heads that they can't make go away? Because they smell something so faint but so utterly disturbing?

This is what is so important to remember and so difficult to remember, when we see behaviors that are quirky and odd, far outside the norm. They are just different types of coping mechanisms. Not much different from blasting Christmas songs at 3am, to drown out the lone cricket, to feel less afraid.

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