Please welcome to Autism Mom guest author Annabelle Short with tips and strategies for helping children on the spectrum with sleep issues.
If you are a parent of a child with autism, you know one thing that bothers them a lot is sleep deprivation. Almost 40 to 80 percent of children with autism have difficulty sleeping. If they cannot sleep, it affects not only them but the whole family.
So, if your child autism is having problems from sleepless nights, there are specific lifestyle changes that need to be made to help him or her get a better night’s rest.
No single tip will work for all children, of course, but there are certain strategies that have been proven to work in almost all cases.
Here are our 7 essential suggestions to help your child with autism sleep:
Avoid watching television (and using computers) for at least one or two hours before going bed. Why? Because children become over-stimulated when watching TV programs, it can make them too excitable to sleep.
Eliminate rough playtime (wrestling and tickling) a couple of hours before your child goes to bed. Quiet activities such as looking at books, drawing, or playing with construction sets and puzzles are more suitable.
Sugar and caffeine are no-nos before bedtime due to their stimulating qualities.
Setting up a routine for your child matters a lot for children with autism. Creating a bedtime routine such as giving a warm bath, reading a story, or putting him or her to bed at the same time of the day helps avoid sleepless nights.
After the child is put back to bed, give a back-rub to soothe him or her. When giving them a back-rub, make sure to start from the upper part of the body (neck) and gently move your hand down towards the spine. Your strokes have to be gentle, slow, and rhythmic. When one of your hands is at the base of the spine, start rubbing the back of the neck using the other hand.
You can also help your kid relax and drift off to a long and deep sleep with soft background music. Make sure the music you choose is predictable in rhythm. Usually, orchestral music works better than singing.
Reading a book or a story to a child once he or she is in bed may also help them become calm and relax and go to sleep faster. Reading poems is even more effective in helping a child go to sleep than reading them stories.
Because a gentle pressure and warmth are both calming to a child, using a weighted blanket may promote calm and restful sleep. I highly recommend that you read weighted blanket reviews to find the one that is best for your child. Weighted blankets are a non-invasive way to help children who have problems sleeping.
Also understand that a child with autism uses a lot of energy, and hence, they need more sleep than an average child. In fact, these 6 to 7 years old will feel better if they get at least 10 to 12 hours of sleep.
Also, put visual distractions at bay, especially during bedtime. Place heavy curtains just over your child’s window to prevent light coming in, and set up thick carpets in their room to avoid the floor from squeaking. Also, set the temperature of the room that fits your child’s sensory needs.
Just before the bedtime, ask your pediatrician about giving your child melatonin, which is a dietary supplement that is highly effective to aid sleep to people having a jet lag. In an autistic child, this supplement helps neutralize sleep-wake cycles, and according to research, it’s entirely safe and effective.
Annabelle Short is a writer and a seamstress of more than 5 years. She splits her time between London and Los Angeles. Annabelle has partnered with Harkla to provide families with the best products and resources for raising a special needs child. Annabelle is a mother and she loves making crafts with her two children, Leo (age 9) and Michelle (age 11). When not working, she’s spending time with her family or putting pen to paper for her own personal pursuits.
Also published on Medium.