Although children sleeping in bed with their parents is not unusual, it seems even more common for children on the autism spectrum. That is just based on my clinical experience though, not on any research. It often seems to be rooted in anxiety. It just gets harder at night. There are noises and shadows, worry and boredom. It doesn’t help that autism spectrum children have trouble getting to sleep period, whether they are in a parent’s bed or their own, and so that sleep disturbance often contributes to roaming around at night or seeking out help from a parent to go to sleep.
Today’s post is focused on trying to get your child to sleep in his or her own room instead of yours. I’m not trying to say children have to sleep in their own rooms. I’m just assuming if you are reading this post that you have your reasons for trying to accomplish this goal. I will make one plug though for children sleeping in their own beds. Someone may think it is cute when their 3 year old sleeps with them. It may be a different story once that child is 13. Then what about when that “child” is 23? If you look at it in that light, then you want to try to set up a sleeping place and routine that will work for your child at all of those ages, and not try to change an entrenched and rewarding routine years down the road. ASD children are less concerned with peer pressure than NT children, so they are less likely to care if other kids don’t sleep with their parents.
- One issue you want to address is the condition of the child’s bed and room. I have known some kids that have slept with their parents so long that their own bed is not appealing or even available due to being piled up with clothes or toys. Also their special comfort items are all in the parent’s room, since that is where they sleep every night. Make sure the bed looks welcoming and like it belongs to your child, and that their comfort items are there.
- Make sure your bed looks like it belongs to you.
- You might even try taking pictures of your child’s bed and your bed, with the proper people sleeping in each one, and posting the pictures on the bedroom doors! Remember, being able to picture it makes it more real for an ASD child.
- Try having your child just lie in his or her own bed for 1-2 minutes at night before joining you in your bed. The child should be dressed in pajamas, or whatever he or she sleeps in, and get fully into bed under the covers, with the lights dimmed or out in the way they would usually like the room to look. It doesn’t count to sit on the bed fully dressed playing with toys for that 1-2 minutes.
- Then increase the time spent there by 1-2 minutes a night. The idea is for the child to gradually get used to being alone and being relaxed in his or her own bed, until ultimately he or she falls asleep there.
- I also suggest that kids use their beds only for sleeping (not for playing, doing homework or for time outs) so they get conditioned that the bed is where they sleep.
- Set up a reward plan for staying in his or her own bed for the scheduled amount of time. I would suggest a small reward or one token if they child stays quietly in bed for the scheduled amount of time, and double that if they just “happen” to fall asleep there and stay there for the night.
- Another approach using a similar idea, would be to first to put a special blanket and pillow in your bed with you for your child to lie on. I suggest something of a noticeably different color than what is on your bed and something that you know your child already likes and finds comforting. You could even give your child your sheet and blanket to have on “their” spot on your bed and get new ones for yourself, maybe in a color or texture your child doesn’t like!
- Once your child get used to that, move it onto the floor by your bed, across the room, and then gradually down the hall, into his or her own room, and then finally up onto the bed.
- Have a scheduled plan of how the move will go, such as 1-2 days on each new spot, with the reward linked to sleeping on the new spot. You could offer a bonus if they could move farther than what you were planning on. It might help to put blue painters tape down on the floor to mark that day’s spot!
Let me know if this works for your child! I’ll address other ideas to help children fall asleep in a coming post.