Improving Sleep

Categories: Parent Perspective

My daughter Adalyn was diagnosed with Autism at age two. When she was baby she didn’t have any issues with sleep, but as she got older it became a constant struggle. She would wake up crying and yelling and sometimes trying to get her words out. There was always a feeling of helplessness. I knew what to expect night after night but it seemed endless with no way to improve it. There wasn’t much I could do to calm her and if I did-we were still up most of the night together.

She would never stay in my bed and was reluctant to have me in her room when she was going through this. She would cry and say bye-bye. It was such a difficult time. 

I wasn’t sure what the solution was. Endless nights with little to no sleep while trying to be productive and upbeat on a daily basis. Working full time there was no time for naps. I’d struggle through and just get to the next day. 

I eventually sought out help from her developmental pediatrician. She had told me to put her to bed at a regular time, and then gently wake her up after a few hours to reset her internal clock. This worked for a short time, but was sometimes difficult to do. I’d have to set an alarm to wake myself up and then gently wake Ady. It was difficult to get back to sleep. 

As she got older and developed more interests I started to see a difference.  I included activities to keep her active and get her tired.

She participates in horseback riding and swimming. This spring she will be on a softball team for different abilities. Ady joins her siblings for their after school sports as well. Her therapist helps out and we are able to track behaviors and keep her safe.

We try to take walks daily and go to the park across the street as much as possible. When we can’t get out because of weather, she can play in our finished basement.

The basement has a gymnastics bar, huge trampoline, sensory step stones and her favorite bean bag chair. All of these things seem to have made a difference in her sleep patterns.

As she gets older I can truly say that Ady’s night routine is by far the most important step to a good night. She loves a bath with Dr. Teal’s Lavender-Melatonin Bubble Bath. We make sure to stock up on it. When she finishes her bath she says-“hair bun”. She doesn’t like her wet hair on her so I pull it up right away. It’s actually pretty cute. Ady will only wear certain clothes to bed. I let her have a choice and I never force typical pajamas.

Another part of her routine is looking at old pictures on her I pad. She loves  scrolling through pictures but has little to no interest in shows or games.

A huge part of  her night is when her two siblings like to go in her room and look at books with her. They make sure to say goodnight to her every night and they never forget to tell her that they love her. I rarely have to tell them. I know love making her feel cared for and included.

I hope parents of newly diagnosed kids or kids with sleep issues can benefit from trying some of the things that work for us.

It’s important to remember that behaviors and everything involved with sleep is always changing. What works for one child may not work for another. At a time when I felt hopeless when it came to sleep I know I would’ve tried anything. There was a time when I really thought it was never going to get better. I never thought we’d get to this point. We’ve come a long way in our autism journey.

Susan Bitler
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