By Jenny Wise
Sleeping can be an issue for anyone, but for children with autism, the prevalence of sleep disorders is high. According to Spectrum News 44 to 86 percent of children with autism have issues with sleep, including falling and staying asleep. Not only does this make nighttime a struggle, it often exacerbates common symptoms of autism, such as repetitive behavior and trouble communicating. As a parent, you might feel helpless in the battle to help your child get a good night’s sleep. But there is help and hope.
Creating a calm, sensory-friendly bedroom can make bedtime a more positive and rewarding experience. And there are no shortage of strategies – which are beneficial to all children, young and old!
Relax the Air
Essential oils are a safe and natural way to soothe and relax. This is especially helpful for children with autism, as transition periods, such as going from dinner to bedtime, can be unsettling. The right scent can have a calming effect. Essential oils can be placed directly on the skin, such as the soles of the feet, or placed in a diffuser to spread the aroma and purify the room. If your child has asthma or allergies, or if you or a family member smokes cigarettes, consider using an air purifier in addition to the diffuser. This will help remove pollutants from the air in their bedroom and in the home. Respiratory issues may make sleep hard to come by, but clean air will certainly help. There are air purifiers specially designed to remove mold, allergens, and smoke from your home’s air. Regardless of what diffuser or purifier you choose, be mindful of the noise level. What seems like white noise to you could be bothersome to your child.
Be Mindful of Color
While some children prefer to have funky colors or patterns like polka dots and flowers on their walls, this can be overwhelming for a child with autism. Painter Trish Buscemi, who is also a parent to an adult child with ADD and Tourette syndrome, says colors impact us deeply. Buscemi told Sherwin Williams that colors “sway moods, provoke thought, stimulate conversation and appetite. They calm us, cheer us, rev us up and even depress us. Color is emotional, cultural, sensory and cognitive.” The goal of your child’s bedroom should be to promote a feeling of safety and relaxation, which can be accomplished with cool tones, like greens, blues, browns, and greys. Avoid brighter, neon hues, which can give off the feeling of chaos and cause anxiety.
Use Soft Lighting
The choice of lighting in your child’s bedroom can be a source of comfort or a serious distraction. For example, fluorescent lighting emits a low hum that can be very disconcerting for a child with autism, not to mention extremely bright. Opt for incandescent lighting, and use natural sources as much as possible. However, once the sun goes down and it’s time to sleep, any light can be a huge distraction. Use blackout curtains on windows to block the glow from streetlamps and the morning sun. Don’t forget to cover up other sources of light in the room, electronics, alarm clocks, even the little bit of shine from cracks under the door can keep a some people up. Talk with your child about what they prefer. Perhaps they want a special nightlight or calming sensory projector as opposed to complete darkness.
Keep Noise to a Minimum
Noise can be another source of stress and distraction. Some children are more sensitive to noise than others. Instead of a sound machine, which only creates more noise, consider installing sound absorbers on the walls. Use carpet and rugs or dense objects, such as furniture, to help absorb sound. If your child’s room is small, try to keep the space open to give soundwaves space to move and lose energy rather than echo off the walls.
Sleep is crucial for childhood development, regardless of whether or not your child is autistic. However, autistic children have unique needs, so you will need to make adjustments to their bedroom to promote healthy, restful sleep. By choosing colors carefully, using soothing aromas, and keeping light and noise to a minimum, you can create a bedroom your child will love.
***Author Jenny Wise created “Special Home Educator” as a forum for sharing her adventures in homeschooling and connecting with other homeschooling families. She has four children. Her youngest daughter has autism.**