In order to have a good day, your child must sleep. That is easier said than done when raising a child on the spectrum. The most important thing to establish immediately is a nighttime routine. This routine must be consistent and enjoyable.
This is how we succeeded:
- Set a nightly bedtime and STICK TO IT!
- Around an hour before the bedtime, start the night routine.
(I did not let anything interfere with this, no phone calls, no visitors, nothing. This will be your nightly sanity once they are asleep. My boys at the age now of almost 18 still have bedtimes and a routine).
- Bath every night (if you cannot bathe, wash up is just as good).
- PJ’s on.
- Read a book or story following bath.
- Once you have read the book, lights are low, no TV or loud noises. You want to keep it calm and quiet.
- In their bedroom is where they stay. Make your exit right away after kissing goodnight. Tell them it is bedtime. Keep repeating this.
Let me explain why this works. A bath calms and sets the tone that it is close to bedtime. Pajamas on means bedtime is next. Reading is of course important but also relaxes your child and creates a special bond between you. Once the kiss goodnight and prayers or whatever you end with is done, child knows it time to go to sleep.
What I found when trouble arises:
They are thirsty – Do not allow them to get out of bed. Bring them water, (if hungry, no food at bedtime – a snack before story or bath). It is important to establish that it IS bedtime. If you allow them out of the room, other than to use bathroom, it throws off the whole routine.
If they come out, put them right back in bed. You can rub back, sing a soft song, but less talking the better. I would sit on the floor next to my sons bed and gently rub his back and whisper prayers.
Remember whatever you CHOSE will become a habit. So if you lay down with them, expect to every night.
If they are crying, let them. Stand on other side of door and every five minutes go in: here’s the crucial part, do not engage in talking or getting upset. Stick with my three C’s – stay cool, calm, and collected. Repeat your bedtime phrases and tell them they are okay. I like saying ‘I love you,’ ‘Time to sleep’ and ‘It’s bedtime, goodnight.’ Leave the room.
This will get better the more consistent you are. Children will feed off your stress, so staying calm is essential. The calmer you are shows your young one that you are in control. When you are in control they will feel safe. When they feel safe, they will sleep. It doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful.
Remember that you as the parent are responsible for setting up a good system of structured living. Sleeping and eating routines are the most important part of being healthy happy, and successful.
I guarantee that if you as the parent remain firm and loving, you will establish a pattern of control that will ripple out into other areas of your relationship with your child.
The work and effort you put in now will pay off later in your child’s life. I know — I lived it.
Kim Faiman is a single mother of twin boys — one with autism, one typical. She is a third degree black belt and taught young ones martial arts for 10 years. Her sons are her testimony to what she knows works for children. Kim’s sons just turned 18 years old and both are exemplary students and human beings — she is very proud.
This article was featured in Issue 44 – Strategies for Daily Life with Autism