Bedtime Routine

A dad and grandmother of a four-year-old non-verbal boy diagnosed with autism were discussing bedtime routines. Since the youngster was easily agitated by change and struggles with explosive behavior, they realized he would do better with a regular, predictable bedtime routine. But they didn’t really know where to start.

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THREE-PHASE STRATEGY Many children, especially those with autism and other perseverative developmental disorders, thrive on routine. Because bedtime for most families is a bit chaotic and unpredictable, it is helpful to take some time and purposefully develop a routine for your child to help prevent the emotional melt-downs that can become the “norm” every evening. A regular, predictable bedtime routine may be necessary for the rest of your son’s life, so getting started early is a plus. Taking time NOW will be a great investment in peace of mind for every member of the family.

A regular, predictable bedtime routine in three gentle phases can ease a child toward bed without meltdowns and resistance to that classic parent comment dreaded by kids everywhere: “It is time to get ready for bed.”
Phase 1: TIME TO MAKE CONNECTIONS: Take some time for relaxed, unhurried interaction with your child. This may seem too radical, but consider turning off the television, sitting close, and making a personal connection, even if your child doesn’t seem to respond. Take time to talk about the past day and what is coming up the next day, even if your youngster is non-verbal, Take time to read, mixing old favorites with new stories and books.
Phase 2: BEDTIME TASKS. You might consider this strategy for encouraging your son to get ready for bed. Make a custom storybook for your 4-year-old that has photographs of him brushing his teeth, putting on his pj’s, hugging family goodnight, and tucking into bed. As you turn each page of the storybook encourage the child to do the same task – with help if needed.
Phase 3: GOOD NIGHT! Read the same short book or story every single night after your youngster is in bed. Almost any book can work here, but one favorite story about bedtime routine for kids is “Goodnight, Moon.” Turn out the lights at the end of the book. If it is appropriate for your family, take time to pray – both conversational prayer and routine prayers. Then hug your buddy goodnight.

When you first begin this routine, it may seem to take up too much of your time. But, in my experience, it is an investment that reaps rich rewards over the years because calmness and contentment will reign at bedtime for the entire family instead of frustration, agitation, and emotional melt-downs.

NOTE TO LISTENERS AND READERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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