Autism: Going to Bed Alone

Autism: Going to Bed Alone


I recently heard somewhere at a training I went to that nearly 80% of individuals with Autism struggle with sleep in some capacity. I feel the parents of my client’s pain when the walk into my office looking like they only got a few hours of sleep the night before, as likely I also only got that much in my home! One common complaint I often hear is the child will not sleep in his/her own bed. I smile and nod, knowing all too well how the scenario looks each evening.

It is 8:00, the hour you dread because you know the fight is coming, and yet your body aches and screams for it because it is exhausted and needs sleep. You get your child ready for bed… teeth are brushed, pajamas are on, story is read. Then the whining and crying begins, all because they do not want to be alone, or they cannot go to sleep without touching some other person. At 11:00 you and the child are still awake, it feels like a nightmare, and you finally give in and just snuggle up to your child for some attempt at a few good hours of sleep, only to be kicked throughout the night and woken at 5:00 to the happy smile of your child ready for the bright day ahead.


Yep, this is our story too. There are some nights that are successful for our son to go to bed alone. But this is a battle that even at 8 years old we still have to fight. Here are some thoughts we have learned over the years and some that clients have tried with success!

  • Ask your child’s doctor about using something to help your child fall asleep, such as Melatonin. This is a simple, inexpensive over the counter natural product you can find at any pharmacy.
  • Sleep with the bedroom doors open throughout the house until your child relaxes enough to sleep through the night.
  • Try creating a “brave shelf” in the bedroom. Put things on it that help give confidence to your child, such as superheroes, awards, treats, favorite toys, pictures, etc.
  • Let your child have toys, blankets, books, or anything else to help keep him/her in bed. If he/she ends up playing for a while, consider this better to the alternative! If you need to put the child to bed earlier because of the playing, then do so.Are-your-kids-going-to-bed-too-late
  • Practice going to bed throughout the day. Use a social story, pictures, etc. to help the child understand what is going to happen.
  • If your child is currently sleeping in your bed, take baby steps back to his/her bed. It might look something like sleeping on the floor for a few nights, then moving into the hallway, then further down the hallway, and finally into the bedroom.
  • If your child is struggling because he/she needs to touch someone, try having him/her sleep in a small sleeping bag under a quilt. This will give the impression of feeling secure.
  • Give rewards for any accomplishment, but be careful to not overdo the awards. For example, if your child sleeps all night in the bedroom alone, give a reward such as a treat or an extra privilege. But then the expectation is now set higher, so to earn another reward he/she might need to sleep a whole week alone.
  • Find appropriate times to work on this skill. Working on this when school begins might not be the best option. Working on it during the summer or school break is a better option.
  • Try having a pet sleep with him/
  • Have your child sleep with a weighted blanket; this has proven very successful. In the summer months, use a fan to help with staying cool.
  • Some families have had success with having white noise in the room. This can be a fan, noise machines (you can find these reasonably priced on Amazon), or music.

Going to bed alone is tough on little guys, especially with Autism. But I encourage you to fight the battle and stay strong. Find the supports you need and pounce on any encouragement you find!

Jen Edwards, LMHCA


Living with a Child with Autism

This post was also posted on when I first wrote it, so some of you  may have read it before.

Living with a Child with Autism

                Oh no, we are in for another meltdown I thought as the bus stopped and I looked at my son through the window.  He had that look.  I stepped onto the bus and helped the bus assistant unhook his harness.  He began fighting back and screaming; it took me five minutes to get him off the bus, all the while dragging him and trying to protect the other kids from his kicking legs and swinging arms.  The driver and assistant assured me nothing out of the ordinary had happened on the trip home and he had gotten on the bus in a good mood.  Then why the meltdown now I thought.

I could not get my son into the house; I finally had to call my husband and have him come home to help me.  Once in the house he continued to throw the tantrum of the century for about forty-five minutes; then finally he sat up, looked around, and stated he wanted to play.  By this point I was frustrated beyond belief, my body ached from holding his forty-seven pounds down to protect him from throwing himself into the wall, and the tears simply could not stop themselves from coming.  I looked at my son, now finally recognizing him while during the last forty-five minutes I had no idea who he was, what he was thinking, or why he was acting the way he was.  It is just another typical day I thought to myself.


My Son Versus the Autism

Living with my son is easy; living with the Autism is the challenge.  To put it simply, Autism is the abnormality of three distinctive areas: social, communication, and behaviors.  I often think if it was just one of these things it would not be so bad, but all three combined together on a continual basis is challenging.  I look at my son often and wonder what is going on in his head; I wish that he could simply express to me his thoughts or feelings.  At nearly five years old he still cannot do this, however he is learning with therapy and teaching.  The other day he came home and asked me how I was feeling, I responded I was feeling excited, to which he looked at me, obviously confused, and stated, “no mommy, happy or sad.”  Everything is very literal and black-and-white to him; “I’m feeling happy” I told him, and this answer seemed to suffice his curiosity.

Everything must be put in order and schedules must be adhered to religiously.  Something simple such as having him brush his teeth in the evening before changing into his pajamas can throw him off and cause havoc the rest of the evening.  One Sunday we attended church, as normal, and his Sunday School classroom had changed for the week.  This simple change, which seemed to any ordinary person not a big deal, was awful for my son, and I ended up having to sit with him in the nursery the rest of the morning.  Explaining any type of change to him ahead of time is crucial.

Positives in my Son

Certainly there are positive aspects to my son.  He constantly makes us laugh with his odd behaviors and silly antics.  He can get on a kick and watch the same movie multiple times a day (which gets annoying) but reenacts the entire movie scene by scene, words mixed up and intonation often awkward sounding.  His energy drains me but can be humorous to watch when he spins around in circles, falling to the floor laughing hysterically.


Many people with Autism cannot sympathize or empathize with others; and though my son does struggle with this, he is able to emotionally connect with us on occasion.  This simply must be done on his timing and his rules.  When he feels sad he needs to cuddle; when he is tired he needs to be able to touch someone.  He is learning how to read other peoples facial expressions and understand how they are feeling.  He still often confuses looks, especially since in his mind there are only two feelings, sad and happy, and he often over dramatizes the reaction he should have to someone.  Many people say to me, “oh, that is typical child behavior at his age”; it is a saying I have come to loathe.  Yes, some of these traits are typical for a young child, but not to the extreme that a child with Autism will have.

Coping with Autism

So how do parents handle and cope with these challenges?  We lean on each other for support, plain and simple.  We tag-team each other and hold onto consistency.  We also do not let others comments and thoughts get to us (though admittedly sometimes it does).  The power of prayer helps us more than anything else.

Every person with Autism has similar characteristics, but has individual challenges.  Because of this, every parent must find what works best for their child.  One of the most challenging things to handle is in public when our son begins to have a meltdown.  People look at us, expecting us to discipline and reason with our child, but this is not our son, he cannot reason when he gets this way and disciplining has no effect on the situation.  When these meltdowns occur, we have to look at whether he is acting out due to being overwhelmed and thus it is more Autistic behavior, or if he is simply being naughty.   Our conclusion on this is how we deal with the situation.  We feel the looks of others, we feel the cold-hard stares, we hear the comments, and we want to respond and yell, “He has AUTISM!  Give us a break!”  But we know that will do us no good.

Many of you are single parents, and raising a child with some type of emotional, behavioral, or developmental problem.  My sincerest praise goes to you!  How you manage it is beyond me, but somehow you do.  Many studies actually show the divorce rate among parents of children with Autism is nearly 80%.  At first this was staggering to me, but once I pondered on it, I seemed to understand the sad truth to this.  Parents become exhausted, and during this time communication breaks down and tension runs very high.  Many parents, both fathers and mothers, feel like they cannot handle the stress; they have difficulty understanding their child and eventually give up.

Before this situation happens, seek help.  There are resources out there available for parents.  Many larger cities have Autism centers, a simple internet search can find these.  Schools can be wonderful resources with special education teachers that can offer guidance and resources.  Family therapy can be another wonderful resource; an area I specialize in, specifically in helping families cope with this types of issues.


Do we love him any less because of the Autism?  No.  If anything, we love him more.  Do we feel sorry for ourselves because of his diagnosis?  No, but I admit we feel challenged enough by it to feel frustrated and drained.  Do we have all the answers and know what to do all the time?  No, we never will.  But we do our best, we find resources to help, and we take it day-by-day.