If only it were that easy.
When I was giving a masterclass presentation as part of my job as a professional speaker on autism & sleep challenges I brought up one of the most frequent comments parents hate to hear which is, “Don’t worry so much. Your child will ‘sleep when they’re tired.’
All I can say to the parents that have heard this comment is that I feel for you. Growing up with autism I had extreme challenges trying to go to sleep and also staying asleep due to my sensory challenges. Today websites such as Autism Speaks say that up to 80% of children with autism have some form of sleep challenges.
While my sleep challenges would get better over time, it would often affect my social interaction and academic performance when I started school.
In my adolescence my parents realized that meeting me where I was in my development was important. They discovered that light and noise were my two key challenges. Window shades helped completely block out any external light for example. My parents also realized that, because I sleep on my side, noise cancelling headphones were an uncomfortable solution. Being from a big city in Jersey City, New Jersey, where there’s often a great deal of noise from cars and unexpected sirens, they invested in tinted windows which would help block out most of the noise.
Later on as a teen, being part of our school’s basketball team helped me become the most physically fit I ever was in my life which also made me realize the impact of physical activity on sleep. I would realize that, when I’d have games/practices in the morning/afternoon I would sleep much better than I did when these activities would happen at night (I’d be too wired). The constant physical activity also helped me sleep throughout the night because I had less stomach issues which would wake me up. Today I recommend at least 30 minutes of cardio 3 times a week and 6-8 glasses of water daily to help fight any stomach challenges.
While my parents weren’t aware of weighted blankets at the time, they also invested in heavy comforters which helped provide deep pressure to help me sleep.
Finally, in my adult years, when my physical activity slowed down a bit I talked to my healthcare professional about starting melatonin which I used for a few years before I found a better routine of physical activity which I’ve stayed consistent with to this day.
I know this issue may feel like a marathon at times but trial and error is important. I hope that, regardless where your child is in their development, you may find me sharing my story today helpful in the pursuit of a good night’s sleep for everyone in your family.
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My name is Kerry Magro, a professional speaker and best-selling author who is also on the autism spectrum that started the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference in 2011 to help students with autism receive scholarship aid to pursue a post-secondary education. Help support me so I can continue to help students with autism go to college by making a tax-deductible donation to our nonprofit here.