People who have autism or other developmental problems have a greater likelihood of experiencing sleep problems. In fact, as much as 80 percent of children who suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face multiple sleep issues.
Caregivers may notice the following sleep problems in autistic children:
- They are unable to fall asleep on time.
- They wake up suddenly during the night and remain awake for a long time.
- They often resist going to bed. They may call out from their bed or walk out of the room past bedtime.
As a result of sleep disturbances, several behavioral issues can be seen in autistic children, such as impulsiveness, aggression, noncompliance and even self-injury. Sleep problems can decrease their quality of life and impair learning. These effects can be very stressful for parents and caregivers.
Although pediatricians routinely prescribe medication to treat sleep issues in autistic children, it may be a good idea to try behavioral strategies to resolve the problem.
Children can be induced to sleep if the right stimulus is provided to them regularly at bedtime. For instance, bedtime stories, blankets and sleep music can promote sleep. Children associate these things with bedtime and may start falling asleep at the right time.
Unless it is necessary, parents should not give attention to children after saying good night. This way, the child will stop seeking attention from their parents after bedtime.
It is also helpful to observe proper sleep hygiene to promote calmness that will lead to sleep.
The room must be dark, cool and quiet. Special care should be taken since children with ASD may be more sensitive to even the slightest of disturbances. All sources of disturbances must be dealt with before bedtime.
The bedtime routine should start at the same time every night. There should be no difference between weekends and ordinary days. The routine should also be relatively short and not last for more than half an hour.
At least one hour prior to the onset of bedtime, parents should keep children away from video games, computers, TV and other electronic devices, which can be highly stimulating.
Exercise during the daytime can be beneficial for alleviating sleep problems in children with ASD. Not only do children fall asleep more quickly, but they also experience deeper and more restful sleep.
The right amount of exercise can also help to improve the mood of children suffering from ASD. But parents should not allow their children to exercise close to bedtime since it can be stimulating. Exercising close to bedtime will interfere with their sleep.
This stimulant is present not just in tea and coffee, but it is also found in certain sodas and chocolates. Read labels carefully and avoid giving foods with caffeine to children close to bedtime.
Although naps have a good effect on health, they can be disruptive if they are taken late in the afternoon.
ABA therapy services can provide comprehensive care and treatment for children suffering from ASD.