Illness & Rare Moments of Clarity

When Cordy’s teacher called me on Friday to tell me that Cordy was complaining of a sore throat, I wasn’t convinced. Cordy had been practically vibrating around the living room that morning, excited about going sledding with her class. I figured she had simply burned out on excitement and was claiming a sore throat to be given the chance to rest after expending so much energy.

The teacher wasn’t convinced, either, as Cordy went from complaining about a sore throat to happily eating a snack. Cordy had no fever, so her teacher wasn’t inclined to send her home, and I agreed. Cordy had a great day and came home happy.

Saturday I was gone for most of the day visiting a friend, and when I left everything seemed fine. When I came home that night, I was given the report that Cordy had fallen asleep at the table in a restaurant for lunch, and then refused to eat anything for dinner that night. When I peeked in on her, she was curled up in bed with her PJs on and an adult-sized fleece jacket over it all.

It wasn’t until early Sunday morning that my fears were confirmed, when I heard a low moaning sound coming from her room. When I went in she was tossing back and forth in her bed, saying she hurt all over. She was hot to the touch, too. No doubt, she was sick.

Cordy has the strongest immune system I know. She’s only been sick a handful of times, often avoiding the common colds and stomach viruses that go around. While I’d like to claim credit for good parenting and teaching her about proper hygiene, I know that isn’t likely the reason – after all, she’s a 6 year old with a sensory fear of water. So when she’s sick, I get concerned.

She spent most of Sunday either on the couch or in her bed. All food was refused, but she did drink a little bit of juice for us. Medicine helped the fever for a little while, but it always came back quickly. I could only sit by her side and hold her hand, telling her to rest and that she would feel better soon.

The worst part was her realization that she was sick, and that sickness can lead to death. “Mommy, am I going to die from being sick? I don’t want to die, I want to live,” she cried to me at one point. I held her tight and assured her that she would be fine and that everyone gets sick sometimes.

But something else happens when Cordy gets sick – she also becomes amazingly clear-headed. Instead of the random thoughts that come out in a rapid-fire string of consciousness, she can hold long conversations and remain focused on the topic at hand. She doesn’t get easily upset over little things, and she doesn’t have the same low threshold for sensory overload. She’s quieter, more still, more deep in thought and more aware of everything around her.

I can’t describe it well, but it’s as if the fever somehow blocks her autism and lets the child that is tangled up in it shine through. And while I’m always concerned about her when she’s sick, I also took the time to marvel at how different she is during these moments.

By Monday morning she was still weak, but starting to feel better. And by Monday evening, the Cordy we know and love was asking to eat dinner.

I’d never wish for Cordy to be sick, but I’ll admit that when she is sick I do take advantage of those rare quiet moments with her, comforting her, holding her hand, stroking her hair, and remind myself how grateful I am for all that she is, whether sick or healthy.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    What amazing insight you provide. I am sorry that Cordy was ill but grateful she has such a smart mom, and dad too!

  2. Very touching post, Chritina. I remember my mom saying she sometimes felt guilty about “enjoying” my brother when he was sick as a child. You really do see a different side of your children when they slow down for a day or two for snuggling.

  3. I worked with kids on the spectrum for 5 years, and saw LOTS of kids whose behaviors actually improved when they were ill! (To be fair, some kids definitely went the other direction and lost all ability to self-regulate or control their stimming when they were sick). Even recognizing that, though, I’d say the majority were calmer and more focused when they were sick, which left the parents and other therapists feeling kind of guilty – you know they are miserable, but they’re doing SO WELL, do you cancel therapy so they can rest or keep going and use that focus while it lasts? ;) Bottom line, you’re not alone!

  4. Hoping she’s feeling better soon!

  5. Glad she’s getting better. How interesting that she’s clearer when she’s ill!

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