As a parent of a child with autism one of the most difficult and exhausting things I have experienced is my child’s inability to go to sleep and stay asleep. I’ll never forget all the sleepless nights that my husband and endured while our newly diagnosed autistic three year old lay wide wake in bed laughing for hours and hours. Unless you have experienced sleepless nights for days on end caused by an autistic child who doesn’t go to sleep or wakes up after only a few hours you can not know the sense of desperation that parents feel. My husband and I were so drained and overwhelmed that all we could do is cry. Unable to continue to function on just a few hours of sleep we starting talking to other parents of autistic children and searching the internet to find out what we could do to help our son get to sleep at night. We learned a lot of different things we could try, some worked and some didn’t but then every child is different.To help parents who are having sleep difficulties with their autistic child I have listed ten helpful tips and strategies that might help you to get and or keep your child asleep at night.
Ten Tips To Help Get Your Autistic Child To Sleep
These specially weighted blankets can help autistic children who have a tactile or proprioceptive dysfunction get to sleep at night. The deep pressure provided by the weighted blankets both calms and relaxes the child autism making sleep possible.Weighted blankets can be purchased on line from David’s Blanket www.davidsblanket.com .
A soothing bath in epsom salt given before bedtime can help relax your child with autism making getting him or her to sleep much easier.To give your child an epsom salt bath dissolve one to two cups of epsom salt in hot water and then pour into a tub of warm water.Once your child is in the tub have them soak for 20 minutes. Its not necessary to wash the epsom salt off after bathing unless the child feels itchy.
If you child is having difficulty sleeping at night you might ask you pediatrician if its ok to give a supplement containing melatonin just before bedtime. Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally released by the body to aid with sleep. Children with autism can have an imbalance in melatonin production and or release that leads to problems with their sleep cycle. Melatonin is available over the counter at many drug and health food stores or on line at Best Vite www.bestvite.com . As with any supplement or medication consult a medical practitioner before use.
Exposure to sunlight can aid in the body’s production of melatonin and help the body’s internal clock to reset itself. According to The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke an hour a day of exposure to morning sunlight can help those who have problems falling asleep at night.
Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants can help some children with autism get to sleep. When we think of caffeine most of us with children automatically think of soda . However caffeine can also be found in chocolate and some pain relievers and medications. In addition avoid foods with added sugar or additives in the two hours prior to bedtime.
Many children with Autism also have sensory processing disorder and can be constantly bombarded with sound as they don’t have the ability to tune out extraneous noise.Use of a white noise machine at bedtime can help an autistic child get to sleep by drowning out all the other noises in the room and helping them to focus on just one set of sounds which can lead to relaxation and sleep. You can purchase a white noise machine on line from Brookstone www.brookstone.com or a Cd or mp3 of white noise from Pure White Noise www.purewhitenoise.com .
For children with Autism a fifteen minute massage just before bedtime can help them calm and relax their bodies which can lead to a better sleep cycle.To perform massage on your child apply medium pressure in smooth stroking movements to the head and neck, arms and hands, body, and legs and feet. If massage makes your child feel uncomfortable or they are resistant then discontinue use.
Heavy Work Activities
Participating in heavy work activities prior to bed can aid autistic children with sensory processing difficulties by helping them to organize and calm their sensory systems. This will help them to sleep better by reducing the chance that their sleep is disrupted by extraneous sensory input. Heavy work activities can be things like carrying stacks of books from place to place, pushing against a large ball while resistance is applied, playing catch or rolling a heavy ball across the floor etc. To pick the best heavy work activities for your child consult with his or her occupational therapist.
Create A Bedtime Schedule
Some children with autism do really well following written schedules. To help these type of children get to bed at night introduce a picture or written bedtime schedule posted somewhere that they can see. The Do 2 Learn website www.do2learn.com has great schedules that you can download for your own use.
Cut Down on Distractions
To help your child with autism get to sleep cut down on distractions in their bedroom. Use heavy curtains on the windows to block out light from outside. If they have a television or computer in their bedroom turn them off. The bright screen of a computer or television can actually reset the bodies internal clock and make getting to sleep much more difficult.In addition try to keep noise in other parts of the house down to a minimal amount while your child is trying to get to sleep.
These ten sleep tips are easy for parents to implement at home and require minimal equipment. However its important to remember that all children respond differently and what works for one child might not work for another. Hang in there and keep trying until you come up with what works best for your child.
Before using Melatonin or massage consult with your pediatrician and or occupational therapist as I am not a medical practitioner an am only a mom who has a child with autism sharing what sleep aids I used with my own child.