The Duck Pie Dance


The nightly Duck Pie Dance starts at about 7:30 p.m., right after everyone has finished eating dinner.

“George, put on your pyjamas,” I say to my firstborn son, who at eleven, currently has the whole puberty-and-autism combination going on.

He stops whatever he is doing to look at me, and then he gets up and locates his pyjamas. He returns to the living room, and then standing directly in front of me, he puts them on. Without first removing his daytime clothes. He stands there looking bulky and rumpled, with an expectant look on his face as he waits for me to follow the script.

“George,” I say obligingly, “Take off your clothes, then put on your pyjamas.”

He takes off the pyjamas but keeps his clothes on. With a look of devilment in his eyes, he holds the pyjamas and slowly edges toward the door that separates the living room from my husband’s office. At a snail’s pace, he shuffles into the office, pulling the door as he goes. Right before the door is about to close, he flings it open, tosses the pyjamas onto the living room floor and dashes into the office, slamming the door behind him. Through the closed door, I hear him giggling hysterically.

“George,” I yell, pretending to sound stern. “Put your pyjamas on!”

He comes back into the living room and flops down in front his computer, pretending to ignore me. I get up and stand in front of him, wordlessly pointing at the pyjamas that are still lying on the floor where he threw them. He picks them up and puts them on, this time taking off his clothes first.

I sit back down, knowing that this is not over. George wanders around for a few minutes, playing on his computer, making words with his alphabetic magnets, playing a few notes on the keyboard. I turn my attention back to whatever I was doing.

Five minutes later, I hear his voice right beside me.

“What happened, George?” he says in an astonished tone, as if he’s reprimanding himself. I look up, and he’s standing there wearing nothing but his undies. I sigh and roll my eyes.

“What happened, George?” I ask, mimicking him. He giggles and runs away. No matter. He’ll be back thirty seconds from now. Or two minutes, or ten minutes – whenever he’s ready. You can’t rush these things.

When he does return, he has his pyjamas on upside down. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a way to put pyjamas on upside down, and my son has discovered it. He has put one leg of the pyjama pants over his head and the other down one arm. His legs are in the sleeves of the pyjama top, which he is holding at the waist.

“Duck pie!” he yells gleefully, with a gleam in his eye.

“Duck pie! Duck pie! Duck pie!” he chants as he prances around the house. He laughs as if it’s the funniest thing in the world, and we all laugh right along with him, not only because it is indeed the funniest thing in the world, but because he has the most delightfully infectious laugh.

Eventually, the Duck Pie Dance comes to an end and George puts on his pyjamas properly. He goes to bed and sings to himself for a while before drifting off to sleep, and I smile to myself, already looking forward to tomorrow’s performance.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.


Autism and Bedtime: 11 Steps For Not Going Completely Insane


The Hyperactive Neurotypical Child

Since the beginning of time, when Adam and Eve got talked into eating an apple by a psychotic snake, women – and to a lesser extent, men – have been pondering the same question. It is a question that crosses all geographic, ethnic, cultural and religious boundaries, one that unites mothers in a way that nothing else can.

How am I going to get this child to sleep?

When there’s a child with autism in the family, that question crops up with frightening regularity. It becomes an automatic response to just about everything. Here’s a typical conversation between husband and wife while the kid with autism bounces on the ceiling like a yo-yo:

Husband: What should we have for dinner tonight?

Wife: How am I going to get this child to sleep?

Husband: Ummm. I don’t know. So, dinner. What do you think? Chinese takeout?

Wife: Sure, sure. How am I —

Husband: Do you want chop suey or chow mein?

Wife (sobbing): How am I going to get this child to slee-eee-eeeeeep?

Husband (fumbling awkwardly with takeout menu): OK, I’ll just order something.

For you autism parents who are feeling a little desperate, I offer you my Bedtime Survival Tips.

1) Make sure you have wine. You won’t need it for the bedtime ordeal itself, but it will a great reward for you to give yourself if when the kids get to sleep.

2) About two hours before bedtime, sweetly ask the fruits of your loins to put on their pajamas. You’ll have to ask both of them about a gazillion times before they comply, so the more lead time you give yourself, the better.

3) An hour before bedtime, calmly talk to the Hyperactive Neurotypical Child and ask him to put on his pajamas. If When he argues on the grounds that his brother doesn’t have pajamas on, explain to him that you need him to lead by example. Bribe him with a donut.

4) Send your husband out to buy donuts.

5) Repeatedly tell the Autie to put on his pajamas, with your voice gradually increasing in pitch and panic. Right before you hit your breaking point, sob with relief when you hear your husband return with the donuts. Armed with your confectionary currency, coax your kids into their pajamas and then give them their reward. Fail to care when they wipe their gooey hands all over the fronts of their nice clean pajamas.

6) Sergeant-Major the kids into the bathroom one at a time to pee and brush their teeth. Do the Autie first. If you do the Hyperactive Neurotypical Child first, the Autie will head for the hills and you won’t see him until next Christmas.

7) Get the kids their bedtime milk. Remember to break a Melatonin capsule into the Autie’s milk, otherwise he will spend the entire night gleefully and vigourously rubbing the top of your head.

8) Channel the days when you used to herd cats and get your kids moving in the general direction of their rooms. Naively believe the Hyperactive Neurotypical Child when he says he’ll quietly try to go to sleep.

9) Kiss the little darlings goodnight and retreat into the living room. If When one of them makes a sudden appearance by your side, calmly shepherd them back to bed.

10) Repeat Step Nine 84 times.

11) When there has not been any activity for three geological eras, you can safely assume that the kids are asleep. Pour some of the wine from Step One into a glass and drink. If you’re feeling really frazzled, cut out the middleman and just drink straight from the bottle.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


Bedtime Toys: Finding The Lost Lego

Last night, my son George couldn’t find his Lego. This was a potentially disastrous situation: George has to  have certain things with him when he goes to bed, including a subset of his Mr. Potato Head collection and his stack of pink and yellow Legos. Gathering them up and putting into bed is part of the routine, and if anything goes missing, the entire routine – and subsequently everyone’s sleep – goes to hell in a handbasket.

So when the Lego went missing, the entire family embarked on a thorough, systematic search. Anyone looking at us would have thought we were trying to root out Saddam Hussein. The search included all rooms in the house, the backyard, the car, even the garage.

Eventually James found half of the Lego stack caught behind the treadmill. The other half had somehow ended up in the washing machine with some laundry. The crisis was averted, and before long, George was snuggled up in bed with his Lego and his Mr. Potato Heads.

It seems like a strange choice of sleeping companions. I’d always thought that kids liked teddy bears because they were soft and comfortable to hug, and for a long time, I assumed that George’s total lack of interest in plush toys was somehow related to his autism. Since then, I have realized that not all kids are into teddy bears, and that preference has nothing to do with autism or the lack thereof.

James went through a brief phase of having to sleep with every stuffed toy in the house. I would have to arrange them around him, and to an extent, on top of him, and I would always wonder if the furry friends would take up so much space that there would be no room left for the kid. It was an impractical arrangement because James is a restless sleeper, and one by one, the stuffed animals would be displaced. When I went to wake James up in the morning, his room would look like a plush toy factory had exploded in it.

It was at around this time that George started taking his Mr. Potato Heads to bed. He couldn’t possibly fit his whole collection in there, so he would pick out about ten of them, ensure that they had their arms and legs and other bits and pieces, and he would line them up neatly. There was a whole variety of them – plain old Mr. Potato Heads were mixed in with the likes of Darth Tater and Indiana Jones: Taters of the Lost Ark.

Taters of the Lost Ark was an interesting one: if you pushed down on his hat the Indiana Jones theme song would be played. This would happen when George rolled over onto this particular Potato Head in his sleep.

It’s a little disorienting to wake up at three in the morning to the sounds of the Indiana Jones theme song.

George’s choice of sleeping companions has not changed much since then, but James’ has. The stuffed toys have been relegated to a toy box, and James now sleeps with Finn McMissile (of Disney Cars fame), his Megatron (a member of his ever-expanding Transformers family) and a glow-in-the-dark skeleton.

From time to time, I will check on them after bedtime to find the pair of them in George’s bed with their respective toys. They’re hiding under the comforter with a flashlight on, playing companionably alongside each other. I pretend to reprimand them for not sleeping, and then I slip out of the room and let them play. Because really, who am I to interrupt their moments of brotherly togetherness?

Do your kids sleep with stuffed animals, or do they prefer other toys? How strict are you about separating play time from sleep time?

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