Parenting a child with special needs can be extremely challenging and exhausting. A child who is difficult to put to bed or wakes up frequently is difficult to handle. You might be surprised to know that intellectual performance can be linked to sleep. Further, research suggests that 40-80% of children who have been diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder have a hard time sleeping. Some sleep-related problems that children with ASD commonly experience are-
- Irregular waking and sleeping patterns. This may include staying awake till very late/ waking up early morning
- Sleeping for less duration than what’s age-appropriate. Ideally, new-borns should sleep for 14-17 hours a day, infants for 12-15 hours/day, toddlers for 11-14 hours/day, pre-schoolers for 10-13 hours/day, school-going children for 9-11 hours/day, and teenagers for 8-10 hours/day.
- Gets up and starts to play or makes noises for one or more hours in the night
- Feels too sleepy during daytime
Several children diagnosed with ASD face a hard time falling asleep, which further results in other challenges such as irritability, diminishing cognitive performance and poor learning, fatigue, zoning out during the daytime, hyperactivity, aggression, depression, etc. Moreover, improper sleep not only results in problems for the child but also the parents. From taking them to therapies, school, and practicing strategies at home, hospital visits, there is already a lot of their plate. Not getting enough sleep while their child is sitting up in the night only adds on to the stress and exhaustion that comes with parenting a child with ASD.
This article suggests a handful of strategies and ways that can help a child with Autism get a good night’s sleep.
1. Take note of the foods to avoid
It is vital to keep a note of what the child consumes before going to bed, as it can have a significant impact on their sleep. Generally, consuming drinks that contain caffeine, which is a stimulant such as tea and coffee, can result in sleeplessness. Also, sugar gives the body a quick boost that results in staying awake. So, ensure that your child doesn’t consume any caffeinated drinks or sugar before heading to bed. Generally, not feeding much sugar is a part of Autism treatment for those diagnosed with the disorder.
2. Establish a bedtime routine
Having a positive routine for bedtime is essential to soothe and calm down the child. Ideally, one can plan a structured routine of 20 minutes for their child before he/she goes to bed. This can include activities like brushing teeth, taking a bath, getting tucked into bed, giving them a back rub, and then you can read a short story or sing a lullaby to them. Also, you need to ensure that he/she performs these activities at the same time each night as it helps set the right body clock for them. Establishing a positive routine for bedtime that is practiced at the same time each night will help induce sleep quicker.
3. Create a sleep environment
Thirty minutes or more before your child needs to sleep, create a sleep environment for them. It is essential to put all gadgets such as laptops, smartphones, tablets, television, and other electronic devices away before your child gets to bed. The reason being, gadgets delay the internal clock of the body by suppressing melatonin release.
Melatonin is a hormone naturally present in the body, which, when released induces sleep during the right times, i.e. it helps the body to stay awake during the daytime and sleep during the night. Children diagnosed with ASD may need cues to know what is expected out of them. To help them understand that it’s time for them to go to sleep, you can show flashcards that have a picture of them asleep. Further, you can say something like, “Nitya will sleep now.”
4. Block Sensory distractions
Sensory distraction can be a significant reason behind sleep problems in a child diagnosed with ASD. In fact, working on sensory-related issues, is a part of the treatment of Autism as several children diagnosed with ASD have sensory issues. To eliminate sensory distractions, use heavy curtains in their room’s window for blocking out lights. Also, one can install thick carpets, mats and regularly oil the door hinges to make sure that your child doesn’t hear any cracking while they sleep. Children diagnosed with ASD prefer specific textures, and it’s essential to consider their preferred texture while choosing their night-clothes, bed sheets, pillow covers, etc. Ensure that their room temperature is comfortable. If they tend to remove their clothes during sleep, you can take it as a cue to lower down the room temperature.
5. Try out medications
If you have tried everything to help your child get a good night’s sleep, and still there isn’t any noticeable improvement, medicines can be a last resort. Supplements like Melatonin can be consumed by those children who have trouble falling, including those diagnosed with ASD. A child psychiatrist or paediatrician should be consulted regarding the right dosage or to even consider giving your child Melatonin or not.
Additionally, an occupational therapist, child psychologist and special educator can together help in enabling the child having a healthy sleep pattern. An occupational therapist can suggest several activities and tasks that are exhaustive. This results in the child getting tired as the day winds up. Also, he/she would be able to empower the parents by training them about the right pressure points and body massages that can help a child fall asleep faster. The special educator helps establish behavioural patterns and helps the child in scheduling sleep at the right time.
Reach out to an Autism treatment centre that has a team of experienced therapists and clinicians who can together work on promoting the holistic development of your child. You can look for an Autism centre in Delhi that can help your child thrive.