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The Internet is overflowing with advice from self-professed experts on how to help children sleep at night. But the truth is that children, especially those with ASD, need comfort and security to fall asleep. And often comfort and security equal mom and dad being right there beside them, trying to tuck their adult size bodies into a toddler bed.
It can definitely be frustrating at times for parents when children cannot fall asleep on their own, but with patience and a predictable routine, your evenings will get better eventually.
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Here are five tips for helping children with ASD maintain a successful bedtime routine.
- 1. Choose a bedtime and stick to it
- 2. Don’t eat too close to bedtime
- 3. Maintain a bedtime routine
- 4. Do a relaxing activity
- 5. Seek professional help
ASD children often thrive on predictability and security and bedtime is no exception. Without knowing when “bedtime” is, children can become overwhelmed. So, having a set bedtime is key. Sometimes it’s necessary to have the same bedtime even on weekends when parents may be tempted to let their kids stay up, “just one more hour.”
Those big pleading eyes can be heart-wrenching and parents can be very tempted to give in! But, with children who need that set routine, keeping the same bedtime even on the weekends may help them to more easily fall asleep on their own in their own beds.
For some children, eating too close to bedtime can mean that they don’t sleep well. This is true for many adults as well. If your child seems to be restless after eating closer to bedtime, you may want to rethink your evening routine so that your family can eat earlier.
And that brings us to evening routines. If your child thrives on it, stick to the same one every night. You can even have a visual schedule for your child showing each activity.
For example, you could eat dinner, play for a set amount of time, take a bath, brush teeth and then go to bed. Each activity can follow your “schedule” and then at the end there’s “bedtime.”
Spend Time Relaxing
Some children may need some time to get comfy in their beds and want to do a quiet activity such as read a book before falling asleep. Sometimes it helps to include some family time or time with mom or dad by reading a book together before bed. Also having a bed suitable for a child with autism is crucial, and there are plenty of autism bed tents for children available online.
Parents, take a look at your child’s schedule. If they have activities during evening hours that may cause them to become overwhelmed, this may affect their ability to fall asleep on their own. They may be too stressed by their evening activities.
If this is the case, you may want to consider moving or even eliminating some of the extracurricular activities that are interfering with your child’s ability to relax and get comfy when it gets dark outside and everybody is yawning.
Getting Professional Help
If your child still has trouble falling asleep or transitioning to their own bed, seek a professional to help you. Some children with Autism have enough trouble sleeping that they require prescribed or over-the-counter medication.
It’s a good idea to have your child assessed by a medical professional before you start your transition anyway, just to make sure your child has no physical or emotional problems that may be interfering with their ability to fall asleep.
Additionally, your child’s therapist may be able to help you with your child’s bedtime routine. If you consult your child’s ABA therapist, they may be able to help you come up with a personalized strategy to help your child fall asleep on their own at night.
For children who are new to sleeping in their own beds and still need their parents to help them fall asleep, you may need to help them make a slow transition. Sometimes there is no quick fix.
Some parents choose to have a small bed for their children placed at the foot of their own beds at first. Children can still be near their parents, but they have their own bed to fall asleep in.
As children become comfortable falling asleep in this little bed, parents can begin to move the mattress to their child’s room. It may take some time, but even doing this in painstaking stages going a little further each time, may help your child feel more comfortable and eventually sleep in their own beds!
Weighted blankets may help a child to fall asleep and stay asleep. Be sure to consult a professional before introducing one, but the extra pressure on their bodies can have a soothing and calming effect. A comforting compression vest can also help with your child’s pre-bed routine.
Complete darkness may not do you any favors when trying to get children settled in their beds. You may explore some nighttime lighting options with your child to see what works best. There are lots of sensory-friendly options that have a calming effect on children.
If nighttime noise is an issue, some children need white noise to help them get sleepy. There are lots of noise machines designed especially for sleeping. Also, even a simple box fan in their room could do the trick to drown out any noise that may be keeping them awake.
Be sure to check in with your child on their comfort. Are they too hot? Too cold? Perhaps they are uncomfortable on their own mattress and they like mom and dad’s mattress better? It may help to go with your child to pick out a new mattress, or even new sheets and covers that are more comfortable.
This is especially important for children with Sensory Processing Disorder as they are very sensitive to irritation. The same goes for their bedtime attire. Are they wearing something to bed that is comfortable, or is it simply too scratchy and they can’t get comfortable?
With some experimenting and some trial and error, you may find that simply changing their sheet or blanket into something softer and more sensory-friendly can do the trick!
Lastly, if your child is not ready for the transition to sleeping alone in their bed, don’t force it or rush it. It will come in time. Know that your children are still young and you are their “safe place.” Mom and dad are their heroes and protectors after all.
They may need you for a while in order to fall asleep. Just be patient, but try to compromise. Perhaps you can set a timer for your child and that’s the amount of time you will stay with them in their room before bed. Or maybe read the same story with them every night and then it’s time for them to go to sleep on their own.
Try to find a way to gently help your child with their transition. Just try to keep in mind that they are just kids and sometimes kids just need mom and dad.
For more information, check out this resource from Today’s Parent