To the Parents Whose Child With Autism Is Having Difficulty Sleeping

Dear parents,

Does your child have difficulty trying to go to sleep?

When I speak with parent groups, sleep difficulties tend to be one of the top challenges that get mentioned.

When I was a kid, I had bed guards on my bed due to difficulties with my balance along with issues with tossing and turning for long periods of the night. Today, I know countless kids on the spectrum who have similar challenges to mine growing up.

Just like no two people with autism are the same, the reason for these challenges can vary. Sensory issues such as noises and lights can play a huge part in that challenge. This was especially true for me growing up in a big city where I was exposed to high beams from vehicles, horns and sirens.

One of the things that helped me, along with bed guards, were bed shades that would take away all external light so I could be in a pitch-black environment. As I got older, I had a night-light that was dim so it wouldn’t affect my sensory issues. Then, my parents helped me form a schedule for going to bed every night. For example, growing up, I used to be obsessed with “Wheel of Fortune” and Vanna White. So as a child, 15 minutes after “Wheel of Fortune” was over, that was my bedtime (we’d keep the brightness on the television dimmer, though, as bright lights can tend to keep children up longer). My parents found it important to have me go to sleep on a positive note due to my emotional challenges, and it did wonders.

This became part of my reward systems. Along the way, we would look at more reward systems for when I would fall asleep by myself. Later in my adolescence, and when it felt like I had more energy, we cut down caffeine and sugar in my diet, especially in the afternoons and evenings. As I started getting involved in more sports, a boost in my regular physical activity, I was also able to maintain going to sleep easier and staying asleep throughout the night.

For the parents out there who are reading this, I hope you know you aren’t alone in this journey. Sleep is one of the most important things our bodies need. Help your child by reading resources — like this
toolkit you can download, Sleep Strategies to Improve Sleep in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Parent’s Guide — to prepare them for that transition to bedtime.

Sleep well all!

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