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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock Images

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Teacher talking in front of students in classroom

A Letter to Teachers of Students on the Autism Spectrum, From a Mom

When my son was in school 21 years ago, we didn’t know he was on the autism spectrum. What we did know was that he had some learning disabilities that made it difficult for him to function in a traditional classroom without extra support. My son loved to learn! But at one school, he struggled [...]
Boston Massachusetts Skyline

What I Realized When Anxiety Changed Our Trip Plans

I had done all the research. I had planned and picked out the agenda. Found the perfect hotel. I had even made an awesome Social Story with the cool app I have. I used actual pictures of the inside of the hotel because I knew he would ask. He would need to know every last detail. I had pictures of the [...]
Photo of two men, one looking at his phone and the other looking to the side of the camera

Why I Didn't Need a Crystal Ball as My Son With Autism Built His Future

Don’t you sometimes wish you had the crystal ball, an assurance that the future will be OK? I know I sure did. When my son Alex was diagnosed with autism at age 2, I wanted to know that when he was an adult, everything would be OK. I thought I’d be able to get through [...]
Couple holding hands outdoors.

How We've Made Our Marriage Work as Special Needs Parents

I saw a birthday card the other day that read “Growing old ain’t for cowards.” I think the same goes for marriage  – probably any marriage – but especially when parenting a child with special needs. Our daughter, 15, has an autism spectrum disorder, and she has three younger brothers who cause mayhem. While we are [...]