Biographical Non-Fiction posted January 16, 2024 Chapters: 2 3 -4- 5... 

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Reality hits

A chapter in the book Jonathan's Story

The good and the bad ...

by Wendy G

Gradually we established some sort of routine for school days with our new disabled foster child, and a more flexible weekend routine. Through the daytime, at least.

The days passed quickly.

His personality was emerging, and we were seeing glimpses of his sweet, engaging, and sociable nature. He laughed with understanding at funny things which happened, and also saw the humour in other situations in our family life.

He was always highly amused when the other kids got into trouble. I could see them glancing sideways at him laughing – and then they would try not to laugh while I was scolding them for some misdemeanour, or for teasing each other or arguing. It soon put an end to my cross words or raised voice. But they knew at least that discipline was in place. Hopefully that would suffice to bring improvement in their behaviour. It’s hard to be cranky when everyone is trying not to laugh!

It was very funny to him when I dropped a saucepan lid with a horrible, crashing noise. He found it even funnier when a lady in a supermarket dropped her carton of eggs. She turned around, shocked that someone was laughing – and then saw the funny side herself, fortunately. He was spontaneous. If he found something humorous, he laughed. He did not know of the social niceties of NOT laughing at someone’s misfortune.


Nighttime, however, was a different matter in terms of routine. There was none. For me the nights passed slowly – they were simply a nightmare. I couldn’t wake myself from this nightmare, for I was already awake. This was my lived reality.

Jonathan did not sleep at night. It was as if he suddenly flicked a switch at bedtime.

Surely this behaviour was because he didn’t know us, I reasoned, and he would soon settle in. Surely! But how much time would it take for him to settle in? Night after night, week after week, the same odd behaviour continued.

The nocturnal maniacal laughing which had been Sheryl’s undoing was continued at our home. I’d been told nothing about this aspect of his care, so it was a horrid shock to the system. Did he have a personality disorder? This was not laughing at something funny, or at kids getting into trouble. This was wild-eyed, desperate, out-of-control, crazed laughter. This was not normal. And it was not funny.

I asked the school to not let him nod off during the day. They couldn’t stop him – and it made their lives a little easier too, with one less to worry about, sitting in a corner, fast asleep. Through the day he could be drowsy and catnapping; at night he was literally wide awake and crazy. Was this all part of his disability?

I asked the children also to help me to keep him awake until bedtime – we were vigilant to try and waken him if he nodded off. It was in vain. If he fell asleep during the day he wouldn’t sleep at night, I believed.

But it was not that simple. No amount of talking, cajoling, or prodding would keep him awake if he wanted to sleep, and nothing we tried could help him to sleep if he didn’t want to.

I tried a gentle bedtime routine of stories, soft music, cuddles, and comfort with stroking. We no longer turned the television on after dinner. We all listened to classical music to relax.

Nothing worked. I was thankful if there was an interval of fifteen minutes or half an hour of peace and quiet during the evening, and through the night I was pleased if there was an hour of quietness. Usually there was not. My husband was unaffected. This was fortunate, because he needed to head off to work each day. He slept deeply – and had once even slept through an earthquake. The rest of us suffered.

Could I continue?

I contacted the fostering program, asking for answers. Where was the on-going support I'd been promised? It had not been very forthcoming since the hand-over. In fact, it was pretty much non-existent.

They admitted that his night-time maniacal laughing had been going on for years.

Why had no one told me that this pattern of non-sleep was his norm; this was why he was in foster care? Why had no one mentioned that at his respite home for the last eighteen months he had done the same?

Why had no one thought to let me know that the caregivers’ solution was to take him into the living room to watch television with them to distract him – and to give him Coca-Cola to drink during the night? And little wonder I was having trouble getting him to drink water!  These caregivers were paid for night shift at the respite home, and then went home to sleep during the daytime. I did not have that luxury.

Why this conspiracy of silence?

I asked the new social worker in the fostering program why he had been given to our family when I had specifically asked for a child who slept well at night. They "wanted him to go to a nice family!" was the response.

I was not pleased with the compliment.

My son, Joe, could not get to sleep or stay asleep with the noise. We switched rooms so that Joe and Bella would share, and Jonathan would share with Anna – she went to bed later and the aim was to get Jonathan to sleep before her bedtime. It never happened. Weeks passed. The maniacal laughing continued, hour after weary hour, one long night after another. I tried a different strategy.

We converted our lounge suite into a double bed for Jonathan, to give the others a chance of sleep. Our house was not large, but the living room was the furthest from the bedrooms. Many times each night I hastened into the living room to try to settle him. I was so tense and strung out with the jarring, screaming, blood-curdling laughing, so wild and crazy, that I could not get to sleep in between times. The strain was starting to affect me.

I did not want to give up on him. During the day we saw such a different side of him; we were seeing, little by little, his personality shining through. But at night I was in despair, and my feelings were resentful and angry, even though I tried to keep calm, for his sake, for my children’s sake, and for my own sake.

Who knew if he could sense my moods and was reacting to them? Was this simply attention seeking behaviour? Was he frightened of the dark, of being alone? Who could tell?

I organised for Jonathan to go to Sheryl (his birth mother) for a few days while I travelled seven hundred kilometres north to the University, for a Residential Course for the psychology subjects I was studying. While there I spoke with psychologists and psychiatrists about the issue. They told me that some disabled people have what is called day-night reversal, and they never changed.

I was aghast.

What had I gotten myself into? Had I made the biggest mistake of my life?

There must be a solution, or we would have to send him back … but where? He couldn’t spend his life in a respite centre!

However, if he had been like this since very young childhood, it seemed very unlikely that I could suddenly come up with a life-changing turn-around, a complete change of behaviour.

 I was at rock-bottom.

What a confusing paradox between how I felt about him through the day, and the resentment I felt at night! Yet, that very intertwining of emotions was what kept me going.

There were positives, despite this huge negative.




Apologies to those who have read some of this in a past story. I'm trying now to weave it all together into one comprehensive whole.

This story is the fourth in a series of stories about fostering a severely disabled boy for many years. The first three are Sheryl's Story, Jonathan's story and You chose ... a boy like THAT?
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