Sleep can be quite a challenge to children with autism. At most, 80% of children on the spectrum encounter sleep issues that can be disruptive to their progress. Sleep, as we all know, is a vital component in maintaining good health. It is not only essential for physical growth, it also helps restore bodily functions, acts as a shield to the body’s immune system, and enhances memory and learning.
For kids with autism, sleeping problems can heavily impact daytime behaviors. This insufficient sleep, when gone unattended, can turn their behavior from bad to worse. Autism sleep problems not only affect the child; this also adds stress to the parents, siblings, and caregivers, leading to more challenges.
To combat sleep deprivation, it is imperative to first look at the likely causes of such difficulties. One of the most common reasons for sleep deprivation in children with autism is environmental influence. It could be the physical aspect of his bedroom, of the people that surround him, or inadvertent behavioral shaping from a parent. The bedroom might be where he engages in play activities, or a parent might have often rocked her child to sleep, leading to dependency, or there might be too much noise in the neighborhood. Be reminded that children on the spectrum are ultra sensitive to light, touch and sounds.
Tips for a Goodnight’s Sleep
Children with autism often follow a consistent routine, and sleeping is no different. As a parent, it is important to keep a sleep diary to track of sleeping time and make note of nighttime awakenings. This can require some effort, for at least a month so you can establish a pattern and be aware of any environmental factors that might be contributing to the sleeping issues of your loved one.
Creating a visual schedule, like a chart, can be a useful tool to keep the child informed and help establish a routine. Try to infuse fun in the chart. Kids with autism can be highly visual in nature, and capturing their visual senses can often lead to a calm routine.
Try to establish a relaxed and calming atmosphere prior to bedtime. You might try playing classical music to soothe usually cranky nerves. Music is a universal language and, according to studies, many children with autism respond more positively to classical music than any other genre. This type of music not only calms their senses, it also enhances brain functions, leading to progress. Some children also respond to hypnotic chants and sounds of nature. The key in all these, however, is consistency.
Some circadian rhythm disturbances in children with ASD might be due to a medical condition. Allergies, acid reflux, sleep apnea, seizures, and night terrors are some of the most common medical conditions seen in ASD children. These conditions require medical intervention to ensure the safety and health of the child. If parents aren’t able to solve their child’s sleep problems, they shouldn’t hesitate to try working with a sleep specialist.
By Pamela Bryson-Weaver, author of Living Autism Day by Day: Daily Reflections and Strategies to Give You Hope and Courage. Bryson-Weaver, whose youngest son has autism, is the past president of the Autism Society in New Brunswick.www.livingautismnow.com.