Helping My Daughter on the Autism Spectrum Sleep More at Night


Understanding, expressing and processing emotion seem to be the biggest difficulties in my house at the moment. We are at the preteen stage of development, which can be a challenge for many children. And with the added challenges that can come with autism, emotion regulation can be more difficult.

Out of all the regulation strategies we are adopting, establishing a bedtime routine seems to have the biggest impact on my daughter’s ability to regulate emotions, as well as my ability to be a fully functioning mum. It has also in turn been one of our biggest difficulties to manage.

For my daughter, nighttime is the time that her mind comes alive with thought and worry. It is the most likely time of day for her to melt down, and it is the time of day when I am not at my best. She is 11 now, and this has been a forever challenge. From a baby she would cling to me and not let me go. As a toddler I would put her to sleep in a buggy so she didn’t wake her sister. I eventually established something that resembled a bedtime at around 5 years old, only for it to be disrupted again at 7 by the increase of anxiety from day-to-day demands.

I knew this was a cycle perpetuating her anxiety and leaving us all feeling exhausted, but I had also lost sight as to where to start to make a change. We needed some help. Fortunately, after months of being on a waiting list to receive some support, we were able to see a psychologist.

The psychologist taught us a lot about sleep and routine, from sleep triggers (this is something that happens every night that helps our brain know when bedtime is coming) to understanding why our bodies need sleep and why worry creeps in at night. We were even challenged to write a story to read every night to reinforce the learning.

People often think of bedtime as something automatic by the time you have a preteen child. But establishing a change with my daughter takes months of work and effort for everyone involved.

We now mostly have a routine established. I say mostly because my daughter sometimes pushes boundaries, and we occasionally go a couple of steps backwards before we move forward again, but I have learned this is OK.

Tackling sleep has been a momentous task for us all, but I’m happy to say it has been worth it! It’s amazing how much sleep impacts our ability to cope and regulate. I am happy to say that with the new routine in place, we are all managing our emotions a little easier and enjoying our day with a little more energy.

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