Compared to children without autism, children affected by autism have a substantially higher risk of suffering from sleep difficulties. This can lead to problems for the whole family, as a child who can’t get to bed or awakens frequently at night is apt to awaken the rest of the family as well. Since sleep is so crucial for health and quality of life, it’s important that parents speak with the behavior analyst about any sleep difficulties their child has been experiencing.
Types of Sleep Difficulties
Insomnia is common among individuals with autism. This means it takes them longer to fall asleep, and they are more likely to wake up during the night. It’s also possible that some children with autism have sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing ceases and restarts in a cyclical fashion throughout the night. Furthermore, children with autism tend to spend less time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is essential for memory retention and learning. Individuals who get less REM sleep experience fewer of the restorative benefits of sleep.
Causes of Sleep Difficulties
There are several reasons why people with autism tend to have more problems sleeping. Often, it’s because of conditions that frequently co-exist with autism. For example, children may also be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders, both of which can interfere with proper sleep. These kids are also more likely to have gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation that causes cramps. This can understandably make relaxation and sleep more elusive.
Consequences of Insufficient Sleep
Insufficient, poor-quality sleep isn’t healthy for anyone. But for children with autism, it can be particularly disadvantageous. There is evidence to suggest that sleep-deprived children may have more severe symptoms of autism, including severe repetitive behaviors and poor social skills. And of course, they’ll also have more difficulty paying attention in class.
Children affected by autism in the Plano area can find the help and support they need at The Behavior Exchange. Our behavior analysts focus on empowering children, parents, and siblings to improve quality of life for the whole family! You can get in touch today at (888) 716-8084.
A solid night’s sleep is essential for good health and quality of life, but many children with autism struggle to sleep soundly through the night. This can create problems for the whole family. If your child has been having problems getting to sleep or staying asleep, talk to an ABA therapist about effective solutions.
Use a bedtime routine.
One of the hallmark symptoms of autism is the compelling need for predictable, consistent routines. When children with autism must deviate from a set routine, they may have significant problems coping with the change. Bedtime is no different. Follow the same bedtime routine with your child every night. It shouldn’t be too long—about 20 minutes is ideal. Avoid overstimulating activities, such as watching TV or playing with electronics. Instead, you can play some soothing classical music at a low volume and read a book together after your child changes into his or her pajamas.
Give your child bedtime cues.
For some children with autism, a predictable routine might not be enough. If your child gets upset when he or she has to stop an activity to get ready for bed, it can be helpful to remind your child at regular intervals that bedtime is approaching.
Maintain a soothing bedroom environment.
Adjust the bedroom environment to suit your child’s comfort needs. In general, a good environment for sleeping is one that is dark, cool, and quiet. Require your child to only fall asleep in bed—not on a couch.
Teach your child how to fall asleep alone.
One of the most common causes of frustration regarding a child’s sleep is when the child requires the presence of a parent in the bedroom to fall asleep. If your child can’t fall asleep alone, then he or she will wake you up periodically throughout the night. You can address this issue by leaving the bedroom immediately after your child’s bedtime routine, but before he or she falls asleep. An ABA therapist can also help your child feel safe and secure when he or she is alone in the bedroom.
At The Behavior Exchange, it’s our mission to help families affected by autism overcome challenges and enjoy a harmonious home environment. Our ABA therapists in Plano only use evidence-based autism therapy practices. Call us today at (888) 716-8084 with any questions you might have.
The inescapable need for sleep is one of the few characteristics that all humans share, but not everyone can get a good night’s sleep. Families affected by autism in particular tend to struggle to sleep through the night. There is a documented link between autism and sleep disturbances, but researchers are still not sure exactly why this is the case.
Understanding the Problem
According to Autism Speaks, an advocacy group , an estimated 80% of children with autism struggle with sleep disturbances. These children can suffer the same consequences as other people who fail to get sufficient sleep, including daytime fatigue, inattentiveness, and memory problems—just to name a few. But researchers have also determined that children with autism tend to display undesirable behaviors with greater frequency when they do not get enough sleep. These behavioral problems can include aggressiveness and hyperactivity. Furthermore, the parents—and sometimes, the siblings—can also suffer the ill effects of too little sleep because of the frequent nighttime awakenings. In addition to waking up frequently during the night, children with autism often have trouble falling asleep and they may often get out of bed.
Exploring the Theories
It has been suggested that children with autism tend to experience sleep disturbances because of differences in the neurological regulation of sleep. Researchers are considering whether atypical levels of hormones and neurotransmitters may play a role. Sometimes, a child’s sleep disturbances may be attributed at least in part to co-existing medical issues that can interfere with sleep. These can include epilepsy and gastroesophageal reflux.
Helping Your Child Sleep
An ABA therapist can help parents encourage good sleep behaviors in their children, including the ability to fall asleep without a parent in the room. Ideally, children should have a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine and a comfortable sleep environment.
The dedicated ABA therapists at The Behavior Exchange provide extensive parent training and support services to help each family thrive. If your family is affected by autism spectrum disorders and lives near Plano, we invite you to schedule a consult by calling (888) 716-8084. You can also read more about our services on our website.
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