Sleep for Children with Autism

Sleep consulting for kids with autism

Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder that affects 1 in 59 children. One of the common symptoms of autism is difficulty with sleep. It is estimated that up to 86% of those diagnosed with autism have some kind of sleep difficulty (compared to about 15% of average children).

Studies have show that for children on the spectrum, they do not have the deep, restorative sleep that the average child will have at night. They tend to spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep. Although all stages have their benefits, not enough time in the deeper stages of sleep can negatively affect brain growth and development. For many parents that I have worked with, some of the common struggles their child(ren) have are:

• Difficulty falling asleep
• Very frequent night time wake ups
• Long stretches of wakefulness in the middle of the night
• Early morning wake-ups
• Short naps, or inability to nap
• Hyperactivity around bedtime

In addition to these struggles, parents will very often see that when their child is tired, this leads to an increase in abnormal behaviors, hyperactivity, and more. And, this is because tiredness affects children in a totally different area of the brain. In a 2016 study, researches saw in functional brain imaging that the areas in the back of the brain (specifically, the parietal and occipital areas) were over-activated when a child was too tired.

In this region of the brain is the pineal gland — the gland that secretes and regulates the hormone melatonin. When we go to sleep each night, the pineal gland secretes a larger amount of melatonin into our systems, and then we feel the urge to go to sleep. However, when any child is sleep deprived, this area of the brain cannot function properly. This exact area of the brain that dictate sleep are the same areas that regulate spatial awareness, processing of sensory information, visual awareness, and attention span. For kids with autism, they are literally stuck in a never ending loop of disorganization — their brains cannot regulate anything!

That’s why making sure that your child can get the rest they need is imperative — you’re giving your child’s brain the chance to get things back in order. When a child is resting better, they can focus better, they are calmer, and trying to implement any therapy program becomes much easier.

However, when most parents ask their doctors and health specialists what to do, there are very few answers other than to give melatonin or medication. In desperation, many parents will resort to this but don’t want to give these forever. Sometimes, a doctor may give some loose recommendations on sleep hygiene, but will
not give clear enough guidelines or advice. This makes it very difficult parents to follow with their children at home and leave them feeling confused and frustrated.

My goal is to give parents the tools and guidance they need to make a great night’s sleep happen in the most holistic way possible. Parents get recommendations that are specific to their child, and step by step instructions on how to get their child sleeping independently, for longer stretches, and waking up rested the next day.

Changing anyone’s sleep takes a lot of work and consistency, but your child with autism needs this! Sometimes, all it takes is having someone keeping you accountable and guiding you in the right direction.

Sleep Help for Kids with Autism

If you’re ready to get your autistic child sleeping better, contact me to book your first assessment call. As a sleep consultant for kids with autism and other neurological disorders and delays, I’m excited to help you and your child get the sleep you need!