For parents of autistic children, there’s often no such thing as a good night’s sleep. Children on the autism spectrum are often prone to wakefulness well into the night, making it hard for others to sleep and leading parents to worry that their child will harm himself if Mom and Dad fall asleep. This fear is well-founded. It is not unusual for autistic children to leave the house in the middle of the night – all without a care in the world.
Some parents of children on the autism spectrum have learned how to deal with sleepless nights. It is common for some children to stay up until 4:00 a.m., bouncing on the bed, laughing hysterically, and generally having a much better time than those who actually need a little sleep. If you are a sleep-deprived parent at your wit’s end because your autistic child never seems to sleep, keep these tips in mind when trying to determine a plan to keep your child safe and still get sleep on a regular basis.
Secure Your Home
The absolute best thing you can do for both your peace of mind and your child’s safety is to secure your home. One way to do this is to have door chains at the very top of the exterior doors. Young children will be too short to reach them, and therefore, you do not have to worry about them leaving the house in the middle of the night. As an alternative, you may want to consider installing motion alarms to alert you if your child leaves.
Also, keep in mind that your child need not leave the home to be in danger. We “child-proof” homes when an infant or toddler is present. Parents of autistic children need to do much the same thing. Keep chemicals or dangerous objects in a locked cabinet. Keep kitchen knives in the highest cupboard. Turn off the water faucets in the bathroom at night. This may not be needed so much to protect your child as it is to protect against having a heart-stopping water bill. The point is that each sleepless autistic child will find his own dangers or way to damage your property. Get to know your child’s proclivities and secure your home against them.
Sleep in Shifts
If your child is at their worst with sleeplessness, you may have to stay up well into the night to watch over him. The easiest way to do this is to take turns and let one person sleep well. Do your best to keep the child out of your bedroom while the spouse is asleep. There is no sense in both of you being half-awake the next day. The next night, or on a schedule you determine as a couple, you get to sleep and the spouse gets to stay up. It’s one way of protecting our child and one another.
Wake ‘Em Up Early
It seems obvious, but if your autistic child is staying up until 4:00 in the morning, they need to get up early. Attempt to wear your child out during the day, and do not let him nap. This is a strategy that parents of typical children have used since time began. The autistic twist is this: often, parents are so sleep-deprived that the temptation is to let the child sleep until 2:00 p.m. if that will buy you some quiet. Resist it. Autistic kids are often able to keep this up for several nights at a time, but eventually, you can get them on an appropriate sleep schedule until the next crisis throws it off.
Melatonin is available over-the-counter in the supplements section of your pharmacy. Many adults take it to help them fall asleep. It also has a high success rate for autistic kids, and it certainly has fewer effects on them than prescription medication. If your doctor suggests Melatonin, you may be skeptical. Once you do, you may find it will halt a jag of staying up until 3:00 a.m. that lasts a long time.
If you are thinking of using melatonin, you must talk with your doctor. It’s not a prescription medication, but that does not mean that you make the decision to give it to your child on your own. Your doctor might also suggest prescription medication. You may want to do research on the prescribed medicine before giving it to your child because the side effects often make the situation worse instead of better. Nonetheless, you should understand that there medicinal options.
Insulate Other Children as Best You Can
If you have other children than the autistic child, do anything we can to make sure their sleep is not disturbed. It is not easy, and in some homes, it is impossible to give each child his or her own room. You may have to live with your autistic child staying up late, but there’s no reason their siblings should have to live with excess noise or being disturbed throughout the night. You may want to move the autistic child into your room or move the other child into your bed if the noise is too much. You will have to decide what options will work best in your home.
Dealing with a sleepless child is hard. Dealing with a sleepless autistic child can be a living nightmare. If you find yourself in this situation, understand that many other parents of kids on the spectrum know what you are feeling. You may not be able to stop the situation entirely, but you can manage it.
Strategies to Improve Sleep in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders