Nothing could be more challenging, exhausting and rewarding
than raising an autistic child. Not only is the situation
difficult for doctors and parents alike, but it’s manifested in oh-so-many ways
across a spectrum of symptoms and to varying degrees in different children. One
of the most commonly experienced problems, however, is trouble sleeping.
So I applaud the sleep counselors at a special
school in Manchester, England, who are helping autistic children and their
parents deal with disturbed sleep patterns.
Typically, an autistic child can:
- Have erratic
and prolonged settling down routines.
- Have the need to perform rituals prior to going to bed, such as going up and down
stairs a certain number of times, or repeatedly check on other family members.
learning to sleep alone in a room.
frequently and require time to settle back down with the help of an
- Be very sensitive
to light and sound.
- Be tactilely
defensive to sheets, PJ’s and covers.
All of this makes for overtired children and parents. Not a
good thing for the health and wellness of either. This exacerbates an already
difficult situation, affecting an autistic child’s ability to perform and learn
in school, as well as a child’s ability to gain the upper hand on a
Any parent who has had to endure endless nights of little
sleep can attest to their own package of consequences: poor concentration
levels, low tolerance for coping with the challenging behaviors of their
children, and high stress. And I know those are just a few examples in the
litany of negative effects to chronic sleep
Establishing a firm
routine appears to be the magic bullet to helping autistic children. This
strategy actually works for helping anyone
become a better, sounder sleeper. It lies at the core of sleep
My hope is that the trend in addressing the sleep needs of
autistic children expands and reaches the shores of us here in America. I’m
not aware of any sleep clinics that focus chiefly on autistic children and
their parents, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them pop up soon enough.
Ask your doctor in the meantime – and remember that the
practice of good sleep hygiene can be helpful and rewarding to anyone —whether
you’re dealing with autism or not.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™
Click here to see Dr. Breus's list of recommended sleep products.