Children with autism often have difficulties winding down for the evening. In fact, sleep struggles are one of the most common complaints among families with children on the spectrum. But, it is entirely possible to help your child get the sleep they need, and on a schedule that works for your family. Here are a few things to consider to help set your child up for sleep success.
Safety comes first
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, approximately half of all children with autism will wander from home. This is a real fear, especially during the overnight hours when they are left to their own devices. While some may seek solace in an enclosed space, such as a playhouse or family vehicle, others may travel further from home and face dangers such as lakes, traffic, and wooded areas. Consider adding a baby gate to your child’s bedroom door along with an alarm that gives off an audible signal if any exterior door or window is disturbed overnight. If your child has a history of leaving unsupervised, a home surveillance camera can provide you with valuable information, such as when they left and in which direction. Watchdog Reviews offers information on what to look for in a home security camera and makes recommendations on trusted models here.
Noise is a real issue
For people with autism, seemingly insignificant noises can be bothersome. For example, a barking dog or cars driving along a nearby road can become intolerable. There are things you can do to stop outside noise from becoming an overnight interference. Thick curtains, heavy carpet, and a white noise machine can drown out audible sounds. Some sleep experts further recommend sealing any gaps and cracks around the windows to reduce noise intrusion.
Calm is key
The autistic mind interprets information differently. Processing stimuli may be difficult or uncomfortable. Many children with autism find they feel more secure throughout the night when sleeping in a mummy-style sleeping bag or under a weighted blanket as opposed to a standard comforter or bed set. Other ways to create a calming sleep environment include using soothing colors, such as grays or blues on the wall. Elle Decor also suggests eliminating technology in the bedroom. Invest in a mattress that fits your child’s sleep style and remove as much clutter from the room as possible. All of this will create a soothing environment where they can get comfortable in a way that makes sense to them.
Temperature plays a part
Many children with autism have a co-occurring sensory processing disorder that makes it difficult to maintain their personal comfort in what most would consider a “comfortable” temperature. If you notice your child leans toward too cool or too warm, you might consider adding a personal heating and cooling system to their bedroom. A ductless mini split unit, like these from The Home Depot, usually costs less than $1,000 but offers the most control for an individual area.
The bedtime routine is as important as the bedroom
Setting up your child’s bedroom is just part of the sleep solution. You also need to pay attention to their nighttime routine. The sleep/wake timetable should remain the same every day — no extra up time on the weekends. Their bedtime schedule may include a warm bath followed by a towel rubdown, a snack (no sugar, corn, or artificial ingredients), and reading a book together. When combined with a calming bedroom environment, having a predictable series of events can make sleep come more easily.
Your child’s sleeping environment and their bedtime habits have the biggest impact on their ability to rest and rejuvenate. Small changes such as eliminating noise and swapping from a comforter to a sleeping bag can have a big difference. But remember, ensuring their safety is your number one priority and will help you and your child sleep more soundly.
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