Tag Archives: singing

DAILY AUTISM – sleep 3/3 : compay segundo or sleep today

This is a 3 part series about SLEEP in our house. Today – Sleep as a schoolkid.
Part 2 – The sleepy train is LATE today.(toddler)
Part 1 – Sleeping like a baby. Not. (baby)

Jeff Overturf Nemo 30001 (1)

Sleep still doesn’t come easy in our house. From the toddler who’s ‘sleepy train’ would arrive but only depart to actual sleep after a lengthy periods of calm after a day full of adventures, by the time Nemo started kindy, things got more complicated.

At about 4, we saw pretty impressive night terrors at random times in the middle of the night. His screams had me bolt to his rescue, find him upright in his bed – to wake him, he basically needed shaking. It was so scary.

Bedtime was getting more complicated too. Mostly alone due to my husbands nightwork, I now faced no more a peaceful downtime but a lot of anxiety and questions – so many questions! – at night.

Autism was still not on my radar, but it was clear that he struggled to ‘digest’ every day’s events and interactions – all these things became more complex now and harder to understand.

Sometimes, not questions but moves were the solution. Nemo would frantically race through the house, banging into walls, jump on the bed, or on the spot. In his room, I could hear him hum, talk, and rumble. He would come out again and again to “check on me”, complain if the house was too quiet, but also if it was too loud. We discussed many imaginary and real pains/itchiness/anxieties.

All this after reading to him, after singing, after cuddles, after dimming the lights, all that jazz. He just could not sleep! I experimented with different physical sleep arrangements, light variations and A LOT of singing, and honestly, more than once I nodded off myself, it was so exhausting.

One day, I installed an old mp3 player with a speaker at his bedside. It had a broad mix of music and we started playing the more calmer albums to see how it would go… What happened was that he would listen to the music until he knew a song and then get up and inform me about it! Not exactly what I wanted.

And then he found HIS SONG.

It was “Chan Chan” by Compay Segundo. The album was on the player. He asked me to repeat it after he heard it once. And again. I put it on repeat and left the room.  When I checked on him later, he was still awake, but calm. Finally, he fell asleep. The (wonderful) Cuban music on repeat had somehow occupied his brain just enough to settle him, but not too much to stir him further. At least that’s what I think. He does not speak Spanish, so I believe the song was like a soothing white noise and it helped him get closer to actually sleep.

We staid about 8 months on that song. It didn’t bother me hearing it waft through our house for many, many nights. Compay Segundo brought peace to my boy and peace to me.

A diagnosis of Asperger’s / ASD and 2 1/2 years of rather troublesome school experiences later, we  have a cuddles&talk or reading routine for bedtime. Now Nemo likes to read for a while by himself, mostly fact books.

“Bedtime” still easily takes about 2-3 hours. Music still plays an important role.

We have a broad collection of music. Nemo sometimes choses himself, sometimes I decide. It works with classical music, but also slow rock and ballads, Nemo likes Sade, Al Green and Elvis (for the last weeks, we are stuck on “Now and then (there’s a fool such as I)”  yep. didn’t even know that song really). Modern music, 80sRock etc, much appreciated during the day, are not working for sleep time at all.  One song, on repeat, until sleep. On days with ‘incidents’, I actually leave the music on, at low volume, in case he wakes up at night. But he hardly ever does.

For us, this works. Although he falls only asleep between 9 –10pm, so still a late bedtime in the eyes of many, my son sleeps most nights ‘like a baby’ (well..) or “like log” as we say, as he can be moved around and nothing wakes him up. He rarely wakes up before 7, so he gets 9 – 10 hours of sleep.

I know how lucky I am compared to many parents of sleepless children, autism or not. I have discussed and discarded the idea of medication for Nemo. I know that for others that is the only solution, at least temporary, and I do not judge them. I believe though, especially for children, that it is important to do this in a medically supervised way, never with ‘over the counter’ products. Children are so fragile and sleep is a precious part in their development, I fear too much medication at a young age will not allow for their own brain to develop pathways to sleep..

I cannot know if one day, music will just not do anymore. For now, I am just thankful to Compay, Elvis and all the others…

"The Banks of the Ohio" – a strange lullaby…

Do you still sing lullabies for your little ones ?
I will just assume you do. Anybody should sing, at any age. No matter how.
Everybody should sing to and with children.
motherbirdSo I come from a musical family and it came instinctively to me to sing some soft and gentle song to my newborn right from the first time I held him in my arms. (Ok, maybe the next morning because the first day my voice was a bit off from all the screaming with all that pain…)

Now, to start off, like most of us I guess, I would sing the old tunes that my mother sang to me and here I was, humming traditional German lullabies.
I had to read up some lyrics, but, cradling my bundle of happiness, it was total bliss.
A few months down the line, going to sleep still was a little bit of an issue to say the least, and singing these same old songs over and over again would have given me a serious headache. Not to mention that I had in the meantime figured out that my son fell asleep almost instantly on “white noise” from the radio…
But my bedtime routine (battle) still included a lot of singing.
I extended the repertory.

First, as an expat,  I added the most common French ‘berceuses’, with the help of my local nanny (i was working back then).
Yeah, jolie et tout, but nothing very exiting here either.
I soon moved on to singing whatever slow and sweet song or ballad I could think of, folk songs, shanties, blues, you could say my son was doing the full Baby Einstein experience at bedtime.  (I’ll be back on that!)

One of those random songs was “Banks of the Ohio”. A very melodic US traditional, written by no one in special, interpreted and recorded by many. Now I must say to my defence that most probably I have learnt this song when – to my mother’s pride and delight – I was the angel-like preteen voice to my brother’s guitar playing..around 1980? Before I learnt English too.


Johnny cash may or may not have sung it in Folsom Prison.

I always only remembered the first verse. The lyrics were a bit odd but it allows fun variations for a female voice. I go for it pretty ‘country’ most times.  “I asked my looooooove, to take a waaaaalk…” and so forth. Well.

I recently started singing it again. My son now really likes it!  We are almost getting a real polyphony going  but also have a lot of fun with all the ‘loooove’ stuff. He figured out some ‘actions’ (gestures) to accompany the words.
But..we still only sing the first verse and those of you that may know the song, would know why. It’s not really a love song.
It’s a murderer’s ballad.
Yep. Maybe as a teen, he’ll think it’s kinda cool. But now he’s 5…

Wikipedia about “the banks of the Ohio” (with lyrics)
Olivia Newton-Johns version on youtube
Article on how popsongs replace lullabies (askamum.co.uk)

Have you taught your kids any weird songs at a somewhat inappropriate age or did your toddler pick up on some uncensored rudeness that came on the radio ? I have more examples (worse?), I can’t be alone with this?