Autism & Sleep Problems | Self-help Skills: Ways to reduce sleep problem for my child with autism | 1:1 ABA Therapy Program — Autism Partnership Singapore

“My son is 7 years old with autism. He is not willing to sleep on his own and needs me to sleep with him every night. If I am not back from work, he will sleep with his helper. How can we make him a more independent sleeper?”

As a parent or caregiver, bedtime can be difficult if your child is having issues going to bed, staying asleep, and getting back to sleep. Your patience can be tested through long hours of frustration before your child goes to sleep. You end up either sleeping in your child’s bed or having them sleep in yours. Sleep disturbances can significantly disrupt your household. You may have insufficient energy in the day due to battles over bedtime as a parent or caregiver. Other children at home may also have their sleep disturbed.Your child’s insufficient sleep may result in daytime sleepiness, which decreases their ability to learn new critical skills. Behavioral issues such as hyperactivity, inattention, and aggression may surface as well. For a child receiving therapy or attending school, this can greatly affect his or her learning.

As we all know, sleep habits are hard to change. As adults, we may be disturbed when we sleep in a different bed, on another side of the bed, or with a different pillow. Naturally, if your child is used to sleeping with you or going to sleep late at night, he or she will resist any change in their routine. The earlier the problem is addressed, the easier it will be to help your child sleep independently. This way, everyone in the family will be able to get a good night’s sleep.​

Be sure that you prepare yourself by getting as much sleep as you can beforehand, or catch up on your sleep during the day since you may not be able to have a restful sleep for several days. Choosing a period when you can offer consistent intervention is important.

Before you begin:

Be sure that you prepare yourself by getting as much sleep as you can beforehand, or catch up on your sleep during the day since you may not be able to have a restful sleep for several days. Choosing a period when you can offer consistent intervention is important.

Next, follow the steps below to reduce sleep problems for your child:

Step 1: Setting up a nighttime routine that eases your child to sleep

For example, a typical nighttime routine can start with giving your child a calming hot bath, followed by putting on pyjamas and brushing teeth. You can end the night by reading a bedtime story or listening to soothing music. These nighttime routines will promote a consistent sleep habit and make it easier for your child to fall asleep. ​​

Step 2: Selecting the proper bedtime

It is advisable to begin the routine much later than when you would like your child to fall asleep. This will help make sure he or she is tired enough and increases his or her willingness to go to bed. Progressively, you can push bedtime earlier to help your child fall asleep at the desired time. One extra tip is to decrease or eliminate your child’s nap time. The objective here is to get your child to sleep the necessary hours on a reliable schedule.​

Step 3: Developing a “sleep” object to help your child fall back asleep during the night

The most common sleep problem is waking up in the middle of the night. Your child may end up wandering around the house, jumping on one or both beds, or climbing into your bed because he or she does not know how to put himself or herself back to sleep.An effective way for your child to learn how to fall back asleep is to establish an item strongly associated with sleep. For example, give your child a soft blanket, stuffed animals, or play soothing music, when he is sleepy. It may also be helpful to stroke his face soothingly with the blanket. Once your child learns how to fall back asleep during the night, he can do so without the items.

Step 4: Keeping your child in bed

If your child keeps getting out of bed, you will need to repeatedly put him or her back in bed in a neutral manner. Do this in the shortest possible time with the slightest opportunity to fuss. Once your child realizes that they will end up in bed and receive absolutely no attention, they will give up. The process requires patience and persistence. The good news is that you will eventually be rewarded with undisturbed sleep.

Step 5: Sleeping in one’s own bed to encourage independence and autonomy

Often, you may wake up to find your child sleeping in your bed. Unless you would like to have him or her sleeping with you when he or she is an adolescent, you should discourage him or her from sleeping in your bed now.

This process is similar to the previous step on putting your child back to their bed with the least intrusive method. As long as your child is of the appropriate age, you can let him or her join you in bed on weekend mornings to watch cartoons. You may also schedule a particular time of day for him or her to snuggle in bed with you.

Step 6: Nap times

Last but not least, if your child still requires a nap, we advise you to allow him or her to do so in his or her own bed. This will foster the habit of sleeping in his bed and support the bedtime routine you have established.

Nevertheless, as we discussed in step 2, it is best to reduce or eliminate naps so that your child is more tired at night.​

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Answer: Rather than try to directly make him sleep, you could prevent all other non-sleep activities from occurring. For example, keep away any toys, snacks, beverages, and keep the lights off. By keeping the environment quiet and dark, this is a good suggestion of sleep.

Our advice is to put your child back in his or her own bed and then provide the care and comfort there.

Rather than try to directly make him sleep, you could prevent all other non-sleep activities from occurring. For example, keep away any toys, snacks, beverages, and keep the lights off. By keeping the environment quiet and dark, this is a good suggestion of sleep.

Our advice is to put your child back in his or her own bed and then provide the care and comfort there.