You will need to address your own sleep skills. This is more than the classic “Put your mask on before trying to place a mask over your child’s mouth” on an airplane. Raising a child with autism is a lot of work. A lot of love, but a lot of time and effort. Nothing is simple. Not getting them dressed, getting them out the door, or getting them to sleep.
This is well-understood in many areas of autism treatment. We suspect that the brain differences of autism extend to the brain’s ability to sleep. Even if that were not true, the behavioral differences and the learning differences, and the sensory differences would be MORE that enough to make sleeping harder for kids.
Poor sleep makes autistic kids struggle more with attention, makes them more sensitive to sensory input, and can play havoc with their digestion, elimination, and communication skills. There is no drug for sleep that doesn’t have side effects. Melatonin might help them fall asleep faster, but it doesn’t sustain sleep in anyone. Weighted blankets could help, but lots of kids don’t like them or kick them off in the middle of the night.
If there are so many challenging issues with my child’s sleep, why should I work on my own sleep issues first?
- Because you will be in better physical and psychological shape to help them work on their sleep. Feeling like @#$% makes it nearly impossible to be the parent you want to be.
- Because you will learn a ton about how hard it is to change behavior, and how good it feels to make progress. Having empathy and insight makes you a superhero!
- Because you will be a visible and powerful example to your partner and your children of how better sleep can improve mood and performance. Autistic kids watch us and can sense changes in us. They may not have the words for it, but they know when we are more fully present with them. Your partner and your other kids will be impressed with how you have changed, and could be more likely to follow your lead.
I want to help you!
I am becoming certified as a behavioral sleep coach, and because of my background as an occupational therapist, the science and neurology of sleep is absolutely fascinating and very meaningful to me.
Check back in as I post more on how to help you and your autistic child fix the many challenges of getting a good night’s sleep!