What can I do if my child has difficulty sleeping?
Approximately half of all children with developmental delays including autism have issues with sleeping, such as difficulty falling asleep and early waking. For children with autism, difficulty going to sleep, or "settling" problems, may be caused by fear of falling asleep, difficulty understanding why and when you need to sleep, hypersensitivity to touch, sound, or visual stimuli causing distress and distractions, or allergy and food sensitivities. Problems with waking repeatedly during the night may be caused by anxiety or acute nightmares. It can be very difficult for children with autism to just "grow out" of their sleeping problems.
If you think that your child may have a sleep disorder, keeping a sleep diary is a good way to get an idea of the extent of the problem. Sleep diaries can help you identify any unusual patterns of sleep, keep track of how any routine or behavioral modifications affect these patterns, and inform other professionals who work with your child. There are many different strategies you can use to help your child, including establishing a consistent bedtime routine, gradually removing stimulants such as sugar and caffeine from your child's diet, using relaxation techniques such as warm baths and quiet time before going to bed, and using social stories to help explain sleep to your child.