Author: Yasuhiro Kotera
The purpose of this issue is to give a personal touch to MRIC Global as it has been proven important in an online community. For this purpose, I will introduce a bit of my personal life.
While working as an Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham, I am living in rather unique circumstances, being a father of 2-year-old triplets (and a 6 year-old). In the UK, every year about 3-5% of newly born babies are twins, but the rate of triplets is much lower: 0.02%! Even more, two identical boys of the three have a couple of health issues, all of which have 1% or lower prevalence. As we have been hitting these small likelihoods, my colleagues said we should have bought a lottery ticket. So we have started to buy some tickets, but no luck… so far.
Raising newly born triplets and one in COVID restrictions has been extremely difficult. Especially the two identical boys have many and complex needs. First of all, they are autistic. And, one boy has a multicystic dysplastic kidney so we need to monitor his body parts constantly. The other boy has Hirschsprung disease, so we had to give rectal washout twice or three times every day for the first year of his life until the surgery. This was very hard because while we were doing the washout for this little boy, there was no adult in the living room, where the other two babies were crying and the big boy needed our attention. In the end, I found a way to do it by myself, so that my wife could see the other children. After the surgery, he became able to push it out by himself, but the symptom comes back once in awhile, which leads us to take him to an emergency unit.
But among all, the most difficult one is their sleeping problems. 50-80% of autistic children have sleeping issues, and of course we hit that too! We have been talking about this with our paediatrician and sleeping specialist, and tried everything they had suggested such as routine, lights, sounds, smell, different types of beds, and medications but none of them worked. Often they wake up every hour or hour and a half crying, and only way to stop them from crying is to hold them and stand up for about 30 minutes. This happens regardless of our conditions or schedule. When I had a fever after COVID injection or a night before my job interview, it didn’t matter. There are many nights that my wife and I were just hopeless, after trying to make them sleep for all night but nothing worked.
But in these difficult times, there are a couple of things I found useful to maintain my mental health. One of them is common humanity, a recognition that we all have similar desires and difficulties in life. Common humanity is one part of self-compassion, kindness towards oneself in difficult times. In my research that explored diverse populations, self-compassion has been consistently identified as a strong predictor of good mental health. When nothing worked to make my boys sleep, I imagined other people in the world who are in a similar situation to mine. Recognising that there are people like me helped to reduce my stress level, weakening a sense of isolation.
We don’t know when (or if) the boys’ sleep will improve, as our paediatrician said ‘Sorry, you just have to power through’. We hope our power will last until their sleep improves.