Sleep Tips and Tricks

More than half of children with an autism diagnosis have sleep interruptions.  My son is turning 7 this month.  He has never slept through the night.  We have tried a variety of medications and have never been fully successful.  Obviously, this can be exhausting for everyone, so here are some tips/tricks we've developed in our household:

  • Be consistent.  Try to make bedtime about the same time every day.  Try to get up at about the same time every day...even on the weekends.
  • If your child isn't sleeping through the night, secure their room so that you can sleep at night.
  • Talk to your child's doctor about medications; sometimes medication can be helpful.  This may depend on a variety of factors, including your child's genetic makeup.  Pharmacological DNA testing does exist.  While it's expensive, it may be worthwhile in the long-run.
  • Talk to your doctor before using any medication, including melatonin.  There may be long term side effects that you need to discuss prior to use.  Even if the bottle says "all natural", it's wise to discuss with your child's physician.  
  • Use darkening curtains; ours are hung with steel rods drilled into the studs for safety purposes.  
  • Try a hemisync CD.  You can find these on amazon.  There is some research to suggest that this can help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.  
  • Remove toys and distractions from the bedroom.  
  • Try a bedside potty to ensure that your child is able to use the toilet if necessary, but safe in their room (this is especially important if elopement- running away- is a factor).  
  • Try a "snug sheet" or a weighted blanket (under the guidance of an OT for proper size and use).   Our son used to climb under his fitted sheet at night, craving that snug feeling.  The snug sheet has worked well for us.

Here are some safety features of our son's room:
  • There is a camera: we can see, hear, and talk to him at any time.
  • There is only one toy: a busy board safely mounted to the wall. There are no blinds (due to risk of strangulation).  We now have blackout curtains hung with steel rods screwed into the studs.  
  • We have vinyl "wood" flooring. This is wipeable, which was very helpful when potty training.
  • There are no extra clothes- children with autism sometimes get into mischief with clothing when learning to potty train.  
  • There is a bedside potty.  It is mounted to the wall and the bucket has clamps to hold it into place (fool me 9 times on this one...sneaky little climber!).  
  • The windows, outlets, and cords are locked.  The door also has a lock from the outside.  This helps us to sleep at night and prevents elopement. (*we had this approved by a social worker; you may have to check with your local laws and governing agencies to ensure legality and/or obtain medical documentation to be able to do this).  Other options include: putting a knob with the lock on the outside (key up above the door safely within parent reach), using a monkey latch, using a baby gate, hook and eye lock, etc.
Click image for a Free Handout on Autism. 

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