Conquering the Bedtime Blues
Most parents have had some experience with a child that has trouble falling asleep.
Most parents have had some experience with a child that has trouble falling asleep. Temporary sleep difficulties are an expected phase in child development. However, ongoing and persistent sleep disturbances can have an adverse effect on the child, parents, and other household members (Wheeler, 2019). Children with autism spectrum disorder tend to experience these sleep disturbances more than a typically developing child. Developing positive bedtime routines and sleep hygiene can be beneficial in eliminating said sleep disturbances. Children on the autism spectrum thrive on routine and consistency, the ability to predict what will happen in their day to day life. This is why developing a positive bedtime routine for a child on the autism spectrum is so vital. First, it is important to start by establishing positive sleep patterns for young children with autism. To do this there are a few areas to be assessed to determine the proper sleep pattern for your child (Devnani, Hedge 2015):
Assessment of any underlying medical problems.
Have your child assessed for tonsillitis, adenoids, gastrointestinal disturbance, or seizure by your family doctor.
• Evaluate current bedtime routine. Is the room too hot or too cold, are there any tactile sensitivities affecting your child, are there loud noises or visual stimuli affecting your child at bedtime?
• Screen for intrinsic sleep disorders. Have your child assessed for sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. This can be done through a sleep clinic referred by your family doctor.
• Assessment for food or environmental allergies. Have your family doctor screen your child for any allergies your child may have.
Once these areas have been assessed it is important to establish a positive bedtime routine with the above findings in mind.
Tips for establishing a positive bedtime routine (Devnani, Hedge 2015):
- Establish sensory cues. Try adding calming music, and relaxing aromatherapy such as lavender, bergamot and chamomile to your child’s bedtime routine. The use of eye pillows can help to shut out excess light and relax the eyes. A quick back or facial massage and weighted blanket can help release serotonin in the body due to the deep touch pressure (Ames, 2017).
- Establish communication cues. Look at the same story every night, establish a sleep story, use a visual prompt or visual sequence, and make use of a reward chart or visual cue cards. The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep is a story designed to help your child calm down and prepare for sleep. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/book-uses-psychological-tricks-to-get-kids-to-sleep-faster/ Other sleep stories/calming strategies can be found at https://www.calm.com/sleep
- Make a visual bedtime schedule. Have your child help pick out pictures and order of bedtime routine. The following link is an example of a visual schedule for a bedtime routine. http://www.mymountainwild.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Bedtimeroutine.pdf
- Pick a specific bedtime. Pick a bedtime that is reasonable for your child, and which you can consistently provide.
- Provide reminders and consistency for the whole family. A good bedtime routine should be the same everyday and include activities that are relaxing to your child.
A good bedtime routine will help teach a child to calm down, relax, and get ready to sleep therefore providing them with all the essential tools towards getting more efficient rest. The addition of a bedtime routine can also help when travelling. If you can maintain this routine when going away for a few nights the child may be able to rest better knowing they will still have the consistency of their bedtime routine to rely on (Wheeler, 2019).
By Kayla Soosaar, February 2019
Ames, C. (2017, January 18). What are the benefits of a weighted blanket for Autism? Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://harkla.co/blogs/special-needs/weighted-blanket-autism
Devnani, P., & Hegde, A. (2015). Autism and sleep disorders. Journal of Pediatric Neurosciences, 10(4), 304. doi:10.4103/1817-1745.174438
Home : News : From the professionals. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/establishing-positive-sleep-patterns-young-children-autism-spectrum-disorder-2271623
Reynolds, A. M., & Malow, B. A. (2011). Sleep and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 58(3), 685-698. doi:10.1016/j.pcl.2011.03.009