Roughly 80% of children who suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorder suffer from sleep difficulty. While this number does fall as a person gets older, the sleeping issues will still exist. Autism and sleep related issues will not only impact the person with autism, but those who live with them too.
What sleep issues occur as a result of autism?
As with most autism-related symptoms, the sleep issues due to autism will vary drastically from person to person. This may include:
- Odd sleeping hours. Many people who suffer from autism may stay awake until very late, or they may wake up very early in the morning. This can lead to tiredness throughout the day, particularly during school and work.
- They sleep much less than you would expect them to.
- During the night, the person may wake up. It is common for children with autism to wake up in the middle of the night and play with their toys. This will, of course, disturb their parents.
Techniques for dealing with autism and sleep-related issues
There are several techniques that you can use to deal with the sleep issues that your child may be suffering from. However, it is important to note that not all of these will work on your child. It is up to you to find the ‘right’ technique that helps them. Sometimes, it may be a combination of different methods which work.
Perhaps the most ‘effective’ method for parents is known as the ‘positive bedtime routine’. Essentially, you are going to be getting your child in the mood to sleep. As you may know, autistic children thrive on routine. The idea is that for about 20 minutes before their sleep time, you do something. You do the same thing every night. For example, you may play with them for twenty minutes, you will take them to the bathroom, you will give them a cuddle and kiss. They will be put to bed. This communicates that now is the time for the child to sleep. Most of the time, they will.
If you are not going to practice the positive bedtime routine, then at least give your child ample warning about when they are going to sleep. Many autistic people, or even those without autism, do not like breaking their activities at a quick pace. So, by informing them of the exact time in advance, they will have time to wind down. Remember, you should always ensure that you are ‘consistent’ with their sleep time.
In addition to this, it is important that you create the right sleep environment for your child. For example, some children may not be able to fall asleep with a particular object. However, this can cause issues later down the line, perhaps if you lose that object. Many people recommend that you regularly rotate what your child has with them at bedtime. It will create less of an issue if the object is lost.
In addition to this, you will always want to make sure that your child falls asleep in their bed. They should not be sleeping anywhere else. If they try to sleep on the couch or in your bedroom, then stop them. There are some children who may feel a little bit insecure falling asleep on their own. Many parents find that in these situations it is beneficial to wrap their child in a blanket or turn a nightlight on. It really does help.