It’s not unusual for children to have trouble with sleep, but 50%-80% of kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. This lack of sleep can have serious repercussions, so it’s important to understand the connection and how you can promote better sleep.
To that end, the team here at Celebrations Speech Group has pulled together the following information on the link between autism spectrum disorder and sleep issues and tips for helping your child to sleep.
The sleep connection
Kids with ASD are more at risk for developing several issues, including gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, feeding challenges, and disrupted sleep.
Autism Speaks reports that half of kids with autism have one or more sleep problems, but the organization estimates that this number may be much higher — about four in five kids.
Another study found that kids with autism have a higher prevalence of sleep issues, including:
- Bedtime resistance — 25.6%
- Sleep anxiety — 22.7%
- Sleep onset delay — 17.9%
- Daytime sleepiness — 14.7%
Sleep issues are not confined to kids, as adults with ASD are more at risk for sleep disorders.
The complications of a sleep disorder combined with autism
Under normal circumstances, a sleep disorder can be challenging, but for kids with ASD, the complications have a far greater impact. If your ASD-diagnosed child isn’t getting enough sleep, it can lead to:
- Daytime fatigue
- Increased frustration and irritability (overreactivity)
- Cognitive difficulties
- Behavior regulation challenges
- Social skills deficit
As you can see, many of these symptoms are already present in ASD. When there’s the added burden of disrupted sleep, these symptoms can be more severe.
Helping your child to get the sleep they need
Dealing with a child who doesn’t fall asleep easily can be frustrating, but some tips can help ease the process.
First and foremost, you must develop a regular bedtime routine that’s comfortable and relaxing. This routine should be performed in the same order each night, so your child’s body receives the signal to prepare for sleep.
A great tip for children with autism is to create a visual board of the sleep routine so they can easily follow along and know what to expect. For example, you can create images of baths, brushing teeth, pajamas, a book, lights out, and sleep.
It’s also terribly important to avoid anything stimulating your child for at least an hour before bedtime, including screens, music, and physical activity.
Some children can benefit from a melatonin supplement to help them fall asleep and stay asleep, but it’s important that you speak to your medical provider before giving your child this supplement.
A great resource for all things sleep-related, as well as a toolkit that’s designed specifically for kids with autism who have trouble sleeping, can be found here.
For a more customized approach to your child’s sleeping issues, turn to our team, which can help you design a routine that’s best for your circumstances.
If you’d like more guidance for helping your child with ASD to sleep better, please contact one of our offices near you — we have locations in Brentwood, Stockton, and Elk Grove, California.