Maintaining Your Child’s Sleep

December 30, 2013, Linda A. LeBlanc, PhD, BCBA-D, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Linda A. LeBlanc, PhD, BCBA-D, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Within Autism Spectrum Disorders lie many behavioral issues which can be managed and even relinquished through Applied Behavioral Analysis and subsequent therapy, especially with Early Intensive Behavior Intervention (EIBI).

Included in these issues is the fact that nearly 2/3 of children with autism have some type of sleep problem typically induced by small changes in environment.

Common sleep problems include difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep, waking up too early and struggling to comply at bedtime. Each of these issues affects not only the child, but the whole family who often lose sleep as a result of escalating sleep problems.

While these issues are common, they’re also manageable and there are plenty of routes you can take to diminish and prevent their recurrence. A good night’s rest is the first step in establishing other healthy habits that can help your child achieve their maximum potential. 

Steps You Should Take

First, work with your child to emphasize the bedroom’s purpose: sleeping. Remove highly distracting items and create a peaceful environment that is well-suited to sleeping. You can do this in several ways:

-move toys to a common play area

-leave calming activities and items in the bedroom  (e.g. stuffed animals)

-removing TVs, radios, and other items of entertainment

Second, a core requirement of helping your child achieve appropriate sleep behaviors is through maintaining a regular bedtime. Establish a bedtime routine in which you utilize the same calming steps in the same order every night. A great behavioral resource is the book “Sleep Better” by Mark Durand.

Aligning with these initiatives, be sure to wake your child at approximately the same time every day, including the weekend! Waking your child within 30 minutes of the same time every day reduces the likelihood of starting the school week off poorly.

Allow time for the right amount of sleep each night based on your child’s age:

  • Age 1-3 = 12-14 hours of sleep
  • Age 3-6 = 11-12 hours of sleep
  • Age 7-14 = 9-10.5 hours of sleep

Like all behavior therapy, establishing a regular sleep schedule for your child requires repetition and patience. If you’ve followed this process over the course of two weeks or more with no resolve or changes in sleep behavior, talk to your provider about assessing for potential sleep problems and alternative intervention options to help improve their sleep habits.

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