Autistic Children and their Unique Sleeping Problems

Autistic Children and Sleep Problems

By Megan Amodeo

Bedtime can be met with joy after a long day, or resistance and frustration if you hate going to bed. I, for one, treasure my sleep. I look forward to going to bed after a tiresome and busy day.

At some point in our lives, we experience sleep issues. Typical people experience sleep problems. Those of us on the autism spectrum experience sleep problems.

Not everyone likes sleeping, or being anywhere near a bed. We have all experienced sleepless nights. Mothers with newborns are constantly up and down from dusk to dawn. I remember being up continuously with a colicky baby. When our children become teenagers, we are wide awake for different reasons. Sleep often slips through our grasp as we lay awake worried about their safety, finances, and jobs. Or maybe chronic insomnia keeps your eyes wide open at night.

Autistic children often experience unique sleeping problems.

You are definitely not alone if your child never seems to sleep. My oldest daughter spent the first six months of her life screaming and crying due to colic. She was inconsolable at times. Looking back, I also believe that some of her sleep issues (once the colic subsided) were due to her being on the autism spectrum, which I didn’t know until she was 7 years old. She liked routine. No, she didn’t just like routine, she thrived on it.

Once I established a regular feeding and bedtime routine, she slept without difficulty. She loved to sleep as long as we stuck to the schedule. It was amazing! To this day (she is almost 16), she sticks to a very rigid bedtime routine. She also sleeps without worry.

My youngest daughter, who is also on the spectrum, had sleep problems too. She too was a fussy baby who craved routine. She has also thrived on a rigid schedule. Now age 11, she still likes to stick to a bedtime routine.

Which brings me to the point of bedtime rituals.

Although they can be tedious and restrictive, my daughters on the spectrum function better with schedules and routines. That is why having a bedtime routine is extremely helpful in establishing healthy sleep patterns.

Since I am on the spectrum too, I love schedules! That is most likely why, without even knowing, I started a bedtime routine with my first daughter almost immediately after she was born. I craved routine and sameness. I needed to be on a schedule to function after my daughter and I came home from the hospital.

I started a nightly ritual of bathing, reading and singing before putting my newborn down to sleep. Do not get me wrong, it was not easy at first. After the first six months of colic and feeding schedules, my daughter and I settled into a nightly ritual. I used the same routine with each of my daughters as they were born. It provided continuity and a sense of calm. My daughters knew what to expect because we rarely deviated from the routine.

Now that my girls are in junior high and high school, they do most of their routines independently. Although, my 11 year old and I still read together nightly. By establishing a bedtime routine, children know what to expect. The routine creates independence. It also creates a soothing atmosphere. Bedtime struggles can be minimized and often eliminated. Besides, who doesn’t love a bedtime story?

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.

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