As a new parent, we expect to have many sleepless nights filled with feedings and diaper changes. We also expect that as our sweet little ones get older, they will begin to sleep through the night and we will not need to depend upon coffee and energy drinks to carry us through the days. For some of us parents, it has been years and we are still waiting for this full 8 hours of sleep! As a parent of a child that is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), these sleepless nights are all too familiar.
Children with ASD
As well as many other impairments often struggle with sleep disturbances. This lack of sleep impacts so many areas of their lives as well as ours. Research by Goldman, et. al (2009) has found that children with autism often have difficulties falling and staying asleep. Statistics state that between 44-86% of children with autism have serious difficulties with sleep where only 10-16% of typical children have sleep disturbances. Children with autism tend to deal with increased bouts of insomnia, less time in REM stage (restorative stage of sleep), and difficulties with staying asleep. Children who do not get enough sleep often demonstrate increased repetitive behaviors and hyperactivity.
My oldest child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when he was eight years old. At this point, it was not a surprise to hear this news. As a Speech Language Pathologist and developmental specialist, I had spent a lot of time around children with ASD. I saw the early signs when he was an infant. We struggled with transitions, eating, lack of language, and most importantly sleep! I could not figure out why he was never tired. He would be running around the house wide awake at midnight and then back up with the sun. He was just a ball of energy that never stopped. Desperate for sleep I tried many different means to support our sleep.
If you have a child that has struggled with sleep I am sure you can relate! As my child has gotten older we have settled into a nice bedtime routine that includes a shower or bath, sensory stimulation, a weighted blanket, and melatonin. Sometimes I find him asleep on his floor, the couch, or at the foot of my bed. As long as we have some sleep during the night then it will be a good day!
An occupational therapist worked with our family to help create a sleep routine that targeted our child’s specific needs. My child’s needs have changed and evolved as he has gotten older so our routine has adapted to meet those changing needs. For my child, having a structured routine and meeting his sensory needs has helped him a lot. The predictability of this routine helps to transition into to sleep with ease. Maintaining open communication with our occupational therapist was important. It truly takes a village to raise a child with ASD and I am grateful to have the team of therapists at Kaleidoscope to help address my child’s needs.
Helpful Tips for bedtime:
Social stories, picture chart, weighted blankets, structured sleep routine, essential oils, squeezes (deep pressure), brushing, heavy work before bed, calming bath or shower, limited screen time, and medications (as recommended by a pediatrician).
Amber Bethke Speech Language Pathologist at Kaleidoscope Pediatric Therapy
References: Goldman S.E. et al. Dev. Neuropsychology. 34, 560-573 (2009) Pubmed