“And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still I notice You when change begins
And I am braced for colder winds
I will offer thanks for what has been and was to come
You are autumn…”
~Every Season, Nichole Nordeman
There’s resistance to extra clothing. The shift from T-shirts and shorts to long sleeves and pants is never appreciated. In the morning I must coax (and sometimes fight) her into her clothes, and she strips as soon as she gets home. If she gets frustrated or upset in public, the clothes start flying off. Donning pajamas is pointless.
A switch is flipped in October, and eating habits change. The picky eater gets pickier and favorite foods suddenly become offensive. She does away with breakfast all together. I’m left scrambling to find some food item that she may deem tolerable.
In autumn, she starts soiling her pants again and the Poop Art Show rolls back into town. (Weary sigh). Meltdowns, non-compliance, unusual stims return with a vengeance.
There’s always the issue of light. In the fall and winter, it’s just too dark. Over the past two years it’s become clear to me that she misses/craves the sunlight of summer. She insists on having the lights on in her room all night. She has a dimmer switch, and the lights are turned to the brightest.
While colder weather and shorter days might cause some to “hibernate”, these months are marked by insomnia for Rhema. Her nightly antics include shrieking, banging the walls and pounding the door, humming, laughing, crying, breaking down her bed, ripping books to shreds and painting her room in brown. Last year, her neurologist prescribed a rather strong sleep aid. It did not work. The doctor prescribed another, stronger medication, but I worried and never gave it to her. Then in early spring she began sleeping much better on her own, and it continued throughout the summer.
Difficult behaviors are heightened in September and October and persist throughout the winter (albeit to a lesser degree). I joked with Rhema’s therapist, T, that we needed to move somewhere where it’s ‘summer all the time.’ She suggested that I try a lightbox for Rhema – the kind used to treat individuals with Seasonal Affective Disorder. It got me wondering if Rhema does indeed suffer some form of SAD and if this is common among people with autism. Rhema does not experience “winter depression”, but it absolutely amazes me how cyclical and predictable these behaviors have become – starting in September and abating at the end of March and beginning of April.
Oh, a part of me felt so discouraged this time. I hoped that she had outgrown it somehow. But just as we retreat inside when the leaves change and fall, so it seems does my girl. I feel it, too, the chill and dread of the coming season; the need to brace myself against its barreness and darkness. I know what winters past have brought. And just when I think I’m past it, the same old battles and fears come creeping in. All the more reason to fall on my knees and cling to Jesus, the same yesterday, today and forever. I’m reminded of how desperately I need His Light. Season by season, day by day, moment by moment.
And ‘faith never looks so grand in summer weather as it does in winter.’
It seems that Rhema and I are not alone in this seasonal disorder. A couple years ago, Tim from Both Hands and a Flashlight wondered if autistic persons might have a greater probability of having SAD than the general population. Last month, on a rare girls night out with Jess and Judith (woohoo!), they both shared that their children experienced regression during the change of season. Also in peak stim season is Joy, Rhema’s window-dancing sister across the way. I’d be really curious if anyone else has noticed such a link? Do some ASD behaviors vary by season?